When you’re craving the finest Japanese food, the sushi train down the street just isn’t going to cut it. But get your tempura under control, because high-end contemporary Japanese restaurant chain Saké has just opened its doors on Flinders Lane – and the food is as amazing as ever.
As the fifth Saké restaurant, and the second in Melbourne, you might be concerned that you’ve seen it all before. You couldn’t be more wrong. Flinders Lane is a dynamic hotspot, and Saké has done its new location justice with an exciting, high-energy restaurant.
Split over two storeys, the ground level is serving up all the fantastic fare we’ve grown to expect from Saké. It even has a sushi bar and robatayaki grill! As dedicated as ever to serving up authentic, hand-crafted Japanese food, the kitchen is smoking its own soy sauce, making its own tofu and even producing its own miso (a process that takes six months!).
And if you’re looking for an after-dinner drink, all you have to do is head downstairs to the bar. In addition to the sensational selection of signature cocktails, you’ll also find Melbourne’s largest selection of sake, shochu, Japanese whiskies and micro-brewed Japanese beers.
We had a chat to executive chef Jean Paul Lourdes to find out more.
Hi Jean Paul, can you tell us a bit about your background and how you got started in the restaurant industry?
In my scholarly former life, I completed a Bachelor of Science in biochemistry at University of Paris XI and later completed a joint master’s degree in Food Science and Nutrition at the University of New South Wales in 2007. This has brought a technical and scientific dimension to my cooking; for example, I experiment a lot with time and temperature.
I also worked as a perfumier in France for five years, which brings a sensory dimension to my work. I like to create a sensory experience for diners and do so by presenting ingredients in combinations that best reveal individual characteristics. I suppose I’m a bit of culinary boffin in many ways!
Saké is already in four very popular locations. How will this new Melbourne location differ?
Saké Flinders Lane is more than a restaurant: it is a vibrant dining and entertainment space. The décor is edgier, the food has our own creative stamp on it, and the vibe is livelier. It’s the perfect late-night hangout, with the downstairs bar and dining area open until 3am from Thursday to Saturday and the kitchen catering to diners until 2am. A DJ booth will also have DJs performing Thursday to Saturday.
Can you tell us about the design of the Flinders St location? Who designed it and what we can expect?
Saké Flinders was designed by Melissa Collison Interior Design. It’s a stylish, edgy, two storey restaurant that features lots of Japanese grass cloths, handmade Japanese tiles, green marble, beautiful teak veneers and timber.
On the ground floor, there is a dramatic sweeping wood dining counter that overlooks a sushi bar and robatayaki grill. Downstairs is a spectacular bar, DJ booth and outdoor eating area. Come and check it out!
We’ve heard you’ll be featuring some amazing dishes, such as niku chazuke – fragrant rice with green tea and simmered beef; roast chicken dashi with toasted rye noodle, dried tomato and organic egg; and slow cooked pork jowl with water spinach, sesame and virgin oyster. Where do you find inspiration for the menu?
I was raised in Japan for eight years as a child so the Saké Flinders Lane menu is influenced by many of my childhood memories, as well as my extensive travels in Asia, North America, and the Middle East, including the different tastes, scents and ingredients that I encountered along the way. My background as a perfumier means that many of my dishes are inspired by fragrance, such as
My background as a perfumier means that many of my dishes are inspired by fragrance, such as niku chazuke, which includes rice infused with the stunning Osmanthus blossom and is served with green tea and simmered beef.While traditional Japanese techniques underscore the Saké Flinders menu, my interest in food science also influences the way I cook. I enjoy experimenting with time and temperature and many of the proteins on the menu are cooked sous vide. For example, the yakitori are brined for 12 hours, then cooked sous vide at 54.5 degrees for 12 hours, before being robata-grilled over an ancient Japanese charcoal called binchotan.
While traditional Japanese techniques underscore the Saké Flinders menu, my interest in food science also influences the way I cook. I enjoy experimenting with time and temperature and many of the proteins on the menu are cooked sous vide. For example, the yakitori are brined for 12 hours, then cooked sous vide at 54.5 degrees for 12 hours, before being robata-grilled over an ancient Japanese charcoal called binchotan.
Wow, what a refined process – no wonder they’re amazing! With so many delicious options, we’re sure it’s hard to choose, but what’s your favourite dish on the menu?
All of them! I wouldn’t have a dish on the menu if it wasn’t a favourite. They’re all favourites for different reasons, of course. For example, I love the beef tataki for its different temperatures and contrasting tastes. The beef is served warm, alongside freeze-dried plum and salted plum which is counterbalance by the addition of spicy togarashi.
What goes into creating the perfect Japanese dish?
Patience. It’s also important to keep it simple. A reason that Japanese food is one of the most widely eaten cuisines in the world, is that it’s simple.
At Saké Flinders Lane, we’re taking things to the next level, but we also respect the fundamental simplicity of what Japanese food is about. We don’t overcomplicate dishes and we respect the ingredients. A great deal of time has gone into sourcing our ingredients, including locally-made Burrata from That’s Amore Cheese, Sommerlad heritage bred, organic chicken from Milking Yard Farm, and Bundurra Berkshire’s free-range Kurobuta pork. We also make as many key ingredients as possible in-house, including a Japanese spice called
A great deal of time has gone into sourcing our ingredients, including locally-made Burrata from That’s Amore Cheese, Sommerlad heritage bred, organic chicken from Milking Yard Farm, and Bundurra Berkshire’s free-range Kurobuta pork. We also make as many key ingredients as possible in-house, including a Japanese spice called togarashi, a traditional rice seasoning called furikake and our house-smoked soy sauce and salts. We make our own tofu, and are preparing our own miso paste, which is a six-month process.Our aim is to let these high-quality ingredients speak for themselves. For example,
Our aim is to let these high-quality ingredients speak for themselves. For example, Tsukemono comprises local vegetables that are pickled in kombu, vinegar and spices in small oak barrels (usually used for alcohol) for between two and six months. It’s not a complicated dish, but it is truly lovely.
When you’re in the mood for something other than Japanese, where do you love to go for a great meal?
I only arrived in Melbourne from Miami a few weeks ago, so I’m still getting to know the local food scene. I like spending time in Chinatown, where there are many great Asian eateries, including Japanese and Korean. I’ve found a great Peking duck place.
It’s good to be in those kind of surroundings; soaking up the flavours, aromas and atmosphere of Asia.
Saké Restaurant & Bar opened their Flinders Lane doors on 15th April. Head to their website to make a booking!