Opening a door in a Richmond side street, Susan Gough Henly enters what is likely Australia’s most authentic Japanese sushi restaurant, Minamishima.
The room is an ode to serenity. Along the left a grooved charcoal-grey wall frames three white-clad sushi chefs performing knife ballet in front of diners at a long oak bar.
Grey-upholstered Scandi-sleek arm chairs surround oak tables in the low-lit dining area and private room. A jazz piano registers in the background.
We arrive with two French friends who are not particularly experienced in the Way of Sushi. A foolhardy combination, perhaps?
Restaurant manager and legendary sommelier Randolph Cheung (Flower Drum, Asiana) seats us in the private room overlooking the sushi bar.
Had it not been a weeknight, we may have chosen his sake food-matching option, but settle instead for an exquisite white Burgundy.
Japanese born and trained sushi master Koichi Minamishima, formerly head sushi chef at Melbourne’s renowned Kenzan restaurant for 15 years, has modelled his own place on Tokyo’s high-end omakase sushi restaurants.
His offsider is Yoshiki Tano, the former chef and owner of Yu-u.
There’s no menu, just a chef’s selection with two dining options, both $150.
At the sushi bar: a seasonal entrée, 15 pieces of nigiri sushi presented one at a time, followed by broth and a traditional dessert.
In the dining room, the entrée is followed with three dishes from the kitchen, nine nigiri sushi, broth and dessert.
I’m a little anxious what our friends will think. “Perfect,” they say, thrilled to not have to make decisions.
A grilled baby abalone is served in its shell with liver butter and funori seaweed; a prawn dumpling arrives in a delicate red snow crab broth; a thin sliver of grade-9 Victorian wagyu is topped with shiitake chips.
Each is presented on fine, hand-made Japanese ceramics. Each evokes swoons from us all.
After an astonishing yuzu and gin palate-cleansing sorbet, three sets of three sushi are served – the likes of king dory, sea perch, scallop, sea eel, and tuna, whose provenance ranges from the cold, clean waters of Tasmania and New Zealand to Hokkaido, Nagasaki and Kyushu, by way of Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market.
We’re instructed when to dab in soy sauce and when to savour the fish’s delicacy with perhaps a dash of ginger, a smidge of fine Okinawan snow salt.
The flavours are subtle, an occasional punch coming from a bright pink tuna belly or blow-torched engawa (flounder’s fin) enlivened with tangy ponzu sauce.
The whole experience is almost a meditation, yet nothing is too precious.
Noticing my friend, Yves, struggling with chopsticks, the Japanese waitress offers a knife and fork.
“Chopsticks are difficult,” she smiles. Yves relaxes and savours the food even more.
Pressed seaweed broth with buckwheat prepares our palates for a white bean mousse with caramelised chestnut.
And the meal is complete with just the right amount of sweetness.
We Aussies have become perhaps the world’s most avid sushi lovers yet there is nothing like Minamishima anywhere in the country. It is a purist’s sushi temple.
In true Japanese style, it’s tucked-away, all the better to savour when you’ve made the effort to track it down.
The Details: Minamishima, Richmond, Melbourne
Where: 4 Lord Street, Richmond, Melbourne. minamishima.com.au
Verdict: Minamishima is nothing short of a Zen masterpiece with a dash of Scandinavian-inspired comfort.
We rated: This Japanese degustation experience revolves around the finest sushi in the land.
We’d change: Prosaic bathrooms bring a dose of bland Aussie reality.
All AT reviews are conducted anonymously and our writers pay their own way – so we experience exactly what you would.