Restaurant Reviews

Yūgen: Restaurant review

It's time to live large at this glitzy multi-faceted restaurant.
Dimly lit interior at Yugen restaurant in Melbourne

Photo: Marcel Aucar

Marcel Aucar
605 Chapel St, South Yarra, Vic

There’s nothing subtle about Yūgen nor is there meant to be. From the moment a meticulously groomed greeter ushers you into a glass-walled elevator that drops into the high-ceilinged, stone-walled, dramatically lit basement – a cross between a Bond villain’s lair, MONA-style art gallery and Eurotrash nightclub – there’s no avoiding the ambition. Perhaps it’s the DJ. Or the birdcage-like “private” room suspended over the main dining area. Or the menu stacked with 9-score wagyu, Southern Rock lobster and top-grade sashimi.

It’s deliberately, luxuriously over the top, saved from toppling into parody by some key points: a genuine sense of fun, pitch-perfect service and some excellent flavours on a menu that unapologetically cherry picks influences from Japan, China, Malaysia and Vietnam. Fans of Yūgen’s sister restaurant – upstairs’ Euro-influenced Omnia – won’t be surprised about the quality of the cooking. Omnia executive chef Stephen Nairn is in charge here too, assisted by head chef Alex Yu. Terrific balance ensues, even as the flavours get turbocharged.

Take the smoked eel chawanmushi. It’s a masterpiece of cuisine-blending, teaming the silkiest of egg custards, shimmering with a robust mushroom dashi, flecked with glorious Skipton smoked eel and finished with satisfying crunch via crisp chicken skin and shallots.

(Photo: Gareth Sobey)

There’s raw red snapper combined with translucent shavings of jamón and prettied up with petals; and a cult-worthy mash-up of sesame prawn toast and Chinese donuts served with a sweet-hot chilli amazu sauce. Beautifully tender drunken poussin, served cool and lying in a pool of Shaoxing wine flavoured with green shiso leaves is another dish to keep you coming back.

That being said, dining in this kind of setting doesn’t come cheap, particularly when it comes to drinks. The wine list (that includes a noteworthy four pages of top-notch sake) is full of heavy-hitters from the new and old world that can have you forking out $1800 for Champagne and $200-plus for Mornington Peninsula chardonnay. Few bottles are under $100 and some, for that special occasion, go as high as $35,000.

Still, Yūgen is hardly pretending to be a venue for a quick cheap dinner. The presence of a $285-a-pop omakase menu, served by Alex Yu at a six-seat bar on Yūgen’s mezzanine level underlines that. So be prepared to give the credit card a thump. But also, enjoy the fact there’s nothing else like it in town, the experience a unique thrill. Personally, I’d return for that chawanmushi alone.


605 Chapel St, South Yarra, Vic

Chefs: Stephen Nairn, Alex Yu & Justin Edwards

Opening hours: Dinner Wed-Sun

Price guide: $$$

Bookings: Recommended.

Verdict: A glamorous good time.

Yūgen: Restaurant review
605 Chapel St, South Yarra, Vic
Stephen Nairn, Alex Yu, Justin Edwards
Price Guide
Opening Hours
Dinner Wed-Sun

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