Restaurant Reviews

Léonie Upstairs: Restaurant review

This serene eatery is a lesson in temaki sushi and female-brewed sake.
Léonie Upstairs restaurant interior, Melbourne

Léonie Upstairs restaurant interior

1, 15-17 Lincoln Sq Carlton, Vic

This charmingly chilled Japanese restaurant and sake bar overlooking Carlton’s leafy Lincoln Square is named after Léonie Gilmour, an American editor and journalist who also happened to be the mother of Japanese-American artist and furniture designer Isamu Noguchi. For those who enjoy spotting themes, there’s plenty on offer at Léonie Upstairs, from drool-worthy, nail-free blond timber joinery and sculptural rice paper lightshades to a cleverly annotated sake list highlighting women brewers and a menu featuring some glorious east-west fusion moments.

Alternatively, you could just come here to soak in the serenity while tucking into Melbourne’s best selection of temaki sushi.

Alongside the impressive sake list – pay attention to the excellently curated flights – temaki sushi gets top billing. Temaki is the looser, cone-shaped style of sushi, made to order so the nori arrives crisp and with less constrained ingredients than the more familiar nigiri. There are 10-plus varieties on Léonie’s menu, including a soft-shell crab number with a curry miso, a superb beef tataki and ponzu jelly version and a tuna and pickle combo that’s guaranteed to put a spring in your step. There’s a make-your-own option too.

Léonie Upstairs temaki sushi

But it’s not just temaki and sake that make finding Léonie’s obscure entrance worth the effort (hint: take the stairs behind the black metal door inside street-level ice-cream and bento shop Hareruya Pantry).

There’s saba pâté, for example, a scintillating miso-simmered mackerel pâté teamed with tangy dashi jelly served with flaky pie-crust batons. Or a brilliant chawanmushi, the silky egg custard generously punctuated with seafood and mushrooms. Or the not-to-be-missed house-made tsukemono, (celery pickled with salted kelp is crisp, salty and sensational) and boned-out chicken wings, stuffed with chicken and tofu farce and deep-fried.

There’s such attention to detail and balance here that even an odd-ish combination of tomato, risotto and camembert stuffed into a tempura zucchini flower may have you wondering why those ingredients don’t get together more often.

You might also just come here for the sake. For non-connoisseurs, the world of the fermented rice beverage can be intimidating but the list here with its helpful groupings and thoughtful tasting notes is accompanied by excellent service that might have you leaving feeling greater kinship with its sparkling, aged, chilled and unfiltered manifestations. It’s another reason to lodge serene and stylish Léonie on your radar.

Léonie Upstairs

1, 15-17 Lincoln Sq Carlton, Vic

Chef: Hitoe Okada

Opening hours: Dinner Thu-Mon

Price guide: $$

Bookings: Recommended.

Verdict: Japanese serenity in décor, food and sake.

Léonie Upstairs restaurant interior

Léonie Upstairs: Restaurant review
1, 15-17 Lincoln Sq Carlton, Vic
Hitoe Okada
Price Guide
Opening Hours
Dinner Thu-Mon

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