Australia’s own mini Japanese empire began life in Brisbane, brought the party to Melbourne’s Hamer Hall four years ago, and now it makes its strategic expansion into the Flinders Lane golden mile and the site of the short-lived Italian joint Woody P. The redbrick with timber accents remain the same but the rest has been Saké-ised, including the binchotan charcoal grill and the basement area where DJs spin tunes and the mood is set to cocktail.
You’ll find Saké founder Shaun Presland’s Nobu-influenced greatest hits on the menu – the kingfish jalapeño, popcorn shrimp tempura and miso-glazed toothfish are all present – but head chef at Flinders Lane, Jean Paul Lourdes, is keen to make his own mark. He’s spent plenty of time in Japan and knows his way around a piece of raw fish: the delectable tuna toro (belly) is a pale, fatty piece of perfection dabbed with what they call wasabi chutney (and for more high-octane simplicity, see the chicken thigh yakitori, glazed in sweet-savory sauce and bursting with the smoky opiate of the robata chargrill).
But whether we’re talking warmed, full-flavoured beef tataki married with grilled and freeze-dried plums and togarashi chips, or a cross-cultural burrata with a stylish mess of coriander and daikon root, broccolini, mint and lemon, or the myoga marshmallow dessert, toasted on the robata and topped with ginger and lime – it’s clear this Saké is taking its own path least travelled.
Location: 121 Flinders Lane, Melbourne; 1300 670 910; sakerestaurant.com.au
Atmosphere: With live DJs on weekends, dolled-up punters and waiters who know how to charm, it’s serious Japanese in party mode
Seats: 293 over two levels, including 48 in an outdoor courtyard
Open: Seven days for lunch and dinner
Big tick: The produce, from sashimi to heritage-breed pork and chicken, is second to none
Must-try: A Hattori Hanzo cocktail – a citrus-ripe muddle of Bombay Sapphire gin, Yuzu sake, cucumber and jalapeño, with lemon juice and elderflower and a shiso salt rim