Looking for a loose-change lunch or celebratory feast? Casual drinks and snacks at an izakaya, or a memorable meal that caresses all the senses with Nipponese elegance? We’ve gathered some of this city’s best Japanese restaurants for every budget and occasion.
Don Don Japanese Restaurant
Specialising in simple rice and noodle dishes, Don Don Japanese Restaurant is a top option for quick, nicely priced meals. Maybe a tofu, chicken or beef Japanese-style curry, or soup with udon or soba noodles. Spend loose change, leave with tight pants (still on the lookout for the two guys called Don).
Ikkoryu Fukuoka Ramen
Established in 1970, this ramen chain has since gone global, including here in Melbourne. Australia’s first Ikkoryu Fukuoka Ramen is the perfect place to get a bowl of Japanese noodle soup just how you like it. There are oodles of options, including several types of broth, noodle textures, extra toppings, and even vegetarian and vegan versions. You can even bring the kids long for the adorable five dollar lunch special!
Izakaya Chuji Japanese Restaurant
It opened in 1989, when few Melburnians knew that izakayas are Japanese bars where drinks and food are enjoyed in equal measure. Izakaya Chuji Japanese Restaurant hasn’t changed much since then (the major exception being the addition of sister bar Nihonshu next door). It’s tried and true, whether you want some quick noodles or lots of bites to share, from sashimi to Japanese-style chicken wings.
Ichi Ichi Ku Izakaya
From 7am until salaryman-going-home-time, Ichi Ichi Ku Izakaya has your Japanese cravings covered. Some dishes have a Western twist, like the noodly breakfast ramen with poached egg and honey-smoked bacon. Others, including the bento boxes, are ideal for taking across the street to the Royal Botanic Gardens. And there are lots of little bites, like gyoza and edamame, to enjoy with beer or sake when the sun goes down.
Ima Project Cafe
A brand new addition to Elgin Street, Ima Project does things a little differently. From their ‘ugly vegetable’ mascots to the sustainable chopsticks, this little Japanese spot in Carlton is unlike any other. Head in for a delicious Japanese style breakfast – featuring fish, pickled veg and miso soup – or opt for indulgence with their signature fried chicken, kimchi and soft boiled egg bowl.
Another newbie to the scene, Namoo has made a home in Queen Street. Get the best of both worlds with sushi and sashimi offerings, alongside delicious hotpot and hotplate charcoal BBQ. Pair with their sweet selection of sake, umeshu (plum wine) or yuzu cocktails and you’ll be a convert to Japanese cuisine in no time.
Wagaya Japanese Restaurant
Private booths, moody lighting and the decor’s artful textures make Wagaya Japanese Restaurant feel fancy, so prices are a nice surprise. It’s a top option for date night on you, from a generous sushi selection to green-tea parfait. It’s also a good bet for fun with friends right through to when it’s time to split the bill. You might still be laughing about the sushi roulette: six pieces, one of which is loaded with eye-watering wasabi!
South Wharf’s modern izakaya serves delicious little Japanese dishes perfect for nibbling with drinks by the water as the sun goes down. Team Akachochin are as serious about cocktails as they are about crab croquettes, with a refreshing selection inspired by Japan. They’re just $12 during the daily 3-6pm happy hour. Another good deal that will see you living it up for less than expected, is the $66 six-course meal. Kanpai!
Step through the unmarked door and down into the sleek basement that is Izakaya Den. A few sips into that sake or Japanese beer, and you can easily imagine yourself in Tokyo. Bite into the kurobuta pork belly or spicy tuna tataki and you may start seeing the world in dreamy Miyazaki anime vision. It’s outstanding food that won’t break the bank, whether you go a la carte or the set menus starting at $55.
Japanese bar HiHou is a smart pre- or post-dinner drink option, but genius if you want to make a night of it. Kick off with a Nipponese whisky, sake, shochu, umeshu or cocktail inspired by the Land of the Rising Sun. Peruse the menu, which includes minced lobster, shiitake mushroom and rice puff tempura, veggie gyozas and grilled wagyu rump. Eat, drink, repeat.
Sake Restaurant & Bar
Sydney’s funky contemporary Japanese restaurant chain has expanded to Melbourne, including at a stylish riverside location tucked in beside Hamer Hall. Whether it’s pre-concert bites and a drink or hours of indulgence, Sake Restaurant & Bar is usually just this side of affordable. There are snacks under $10, $49 bento lunch boxes, and set menus from $65. But feel free to go large – a few mains nudge $50.
Kenzan Japanese Restaurant
Opening in 1981, when Japanese restaurants were a rarity in Melbourne, this is one of the city’s fine-dining institutions. Named after an Edo period potter, Kenzan Japanese Restaurant has a timeless elegance. Smartly dressed waiters whisk between tables. Sushi chefs wield their knives with precision and grace, making the 12-seat sushi bar one of the prime spots to sit. Shoes come off outside the traditional private rooms. Escape the Collins Street rush for a few hours of pleasure.
One of regional Victoria’s celebrated fine-dining restaurants upped sticks to the city in late 2018. To Carlton’s Lygon Street specifically, swimming against the tide of casual Italian with thoughtful Japanese-fusion dishes and an elegant, minimalist fit-out. Prices start at $75 for two courses, or four courses for the Sunday set lunch, up to $150 for the seven-course degustation. Save your pennies (especially if adding drinks to the bill), assured in the knowledge that Kazuki’s Restaurant is well worth it.
Probably Melbourne’s most ambitious Japanese establishment, Kisume is actually several distinct dining experiences across three artfully designed levels. Go smart-casual at the restaurant or extensive sushi bar. Step up a level at the bar where seafood and chablis rule. Or go for broke at the 12-seater chef’s table, which only offers an omakase (chef’s selection) menu for $195 per person.
New York’s ‘new style’ Japanese restaurant for the rich and famous has outposts around the world, including at Melbourne’s Crown complex. With river views and décor that whispers ‘money’, Nobu is a special occasion destination with prices to match. What makes it ‘new-style is the Peruvian influence, including tiradito: raw fish cut like sashimi, served with spicy sauce.