Minamishima, an intimate Japanese restaurant serving omakase under the hands of Chef Koichi Minamishima. To say that I was excited for this dinner reservation would have been a serious understatement.
Chef Koichi Minamishima in his element
After Larissa Dubecki from online magazine Time Out lauded Minamishima as having the best sushi in Melbourne, I was tempted to go and see for myself. We made a booking two months in advance for February as Minamishima was closed over the holiday period and I had my upcoming trips in January.
We originally planned to go as a group of four with Jamie and Jess. In the end however, we all opted to go separately due to clashes between our busy schedules, limited seating availability, combined with the chef’s rule of no parties bigger than two being seated together at the bar.
Omakase menu at $150 per person
Minamishima is open for dinner, Tuesdays to Saturday. There is only a menu option of the omakase (priced at $150 per person) with seating either at the bar or the tables for groups. Sake and wine pairings are also available for an extra $70 a head. For those who are unfamiliar, omakase refers to the chef’s choice and what you will be served is mostly dependent on what is available and fresh from the market that day.
I’ve only had two other omakase experiences so far: the first being at Shira Nui in Glen Waverley and the second was at Sushi Ginza Onodera in Honolulu, Hawaii. And I have loved each and every experience in their own unique way. I’ve gone into more detail as to which one I enjoyed more at the bottom of the page 🙂
Michisakari Junmai Daiginjo Sake $16.0
Our host and veteran sommelier Randolph Cheung went through the sake and wine list with Tony to find one to his liking. In turn, he recommended this sake originating from the city of Gifu in Japan.
We started off the night with a palate cleanser of walnut tofu with sweet prawn and okra in a small bowl. I must admit that it was a bit of a challenge for me to try to pick up and eat this jello-like cube of tofu using just chopsticks at my disposal. But it was so nice! A subtle walnut flavour was detected throughout the tofu while the little juicy pieces of prawn on top were a nice little addition.
Everything at Minamishima was so meticulously thought out. Once the empty bowls from the palate cleanser were cleared away, the waitresses proceeded to set up in front of us our plates and soy sauce tray in preparation for the start of the fabulous 15-course sushi dinner. Which was to be followed by a bowl of dashi soup and dessert ice cream at the end.
King George Whiting
Our first sushi of the night was this delicate piece of King George Whiting. Two thoughts came to my mind as I devoured this piece of fish. 1) My god, how fresh did this fish taste and 2) I didn’t realise how much I had missed having omakase like this. I was excited to see what else was to follow.
I really enjoyed this second piece of sushi. I’ve never had garfish before but this one had such a thick yet soft texture and a sweet underlying taste. Probably one of my favourite pieces bar the obvious choices of the night.
The next dish that we had was a slice of King Dory sushi with sweet rice vinegar and kelp on top. This fish had a mild taste to it and a firm texture which went nicely with the light piece of kelp on top.
This Blue Eye fish was the first piece where I really felt the kick from the hidden wasabi underneath. Admittedly, I really enjoyed it despite my unusually low tolerance for wasabi. The fish was served with a teeny helping of white radish (ponzu daikon) on top to help accentuate the flavours from the fish.
One of the reasons why we decided not to go as a four was that we wouldn’t be able to sit altogether at the bar. And that’s one of the main perks of having an omakase experience isn’t it – to get to watch the chefs up close in action? It was really interesting getting to watch Chef Minamishima at work. You could see how serious he was about his work – he had a pensive look that was evident in every step of the way.
Looking at the bigger tables situated in the dimly lit area of the restaurant behind a small partition (which would’ve blocked any chance of seeing the bar from afar for some of the tables) – I was glad that we made the choice to sit at the bar instead.
Tony and I were quite impressed looking at the slices that were cut into our pieces of cuttlefish. But we were even more impressed with the way that those cuts gave rise to the textures in our mouths.
New Zealand Scampi
This was quite possibly the freshest, most succulent piece of scampi that I’ve ever tasted! It was sweet with a beautiful creamy flesh. I could easily have downed a dozen of these! Another favourite from the night 😛
These Hokkaido scallops were a bit bigger than I was used to seeing in scallops which surprised me at first. The taste and seared flavoured was nice but wasn’t anything too special or different when compared to the rest.
Japanese Flounder (Engawa)
Engawa is cut from the dorsal fin muscle of the Japanese flounder fish. I remember having had this before (from its strange name) at Sushi Hotaru and everyone at the table fell in love with it! Here, it was served slightly seared with a blowtorch to render the rich amount of fat that this fish has. It was pure bliss! The fish just melted in my mouth and left a lingering aroma that had me craving for more.
Ever since I have had the best piece of fish of my entire life at Sushi Ginza Onodera in Hawaii, the sight of the bluefin tuna alone would be enough to make me want to cry. Granted I have never been to Japan before and cannot possibly compare it to the quality that comes from its originating country – but until that time comes, a girl can find other ways to get her fix in the meantime right?
You can probably imagine my excitement when Chef Minamishima opened up this box to reveal the beautifully vibrant cuts of the tuna right in front of our eyes. I started pondering about how much these blocks would be worth as this wasn’t my first time seeing such impressive blocks of bluefin tuna (check out the one here held up by Chef Shinsuke in Hawaii!).
Bluefin Tuna Otoro
Here we have a piece of bluefin tuna otoro, which refer to the tiny portions of meat located in the belly area closer to the head. This part is considered to be the most highly prized area of the fish. I was so excited to have Tony try otoro for the first time and he was really impressed with it. Not surprising! One could never be able to understand how a piece of fish could melt in your mouth until they’ve had bluefin tuna.
Chef Minamishima giving the blowtorch treatment to pieces of otoro
Seared Tuna Belly
After having just had a raw piece of otoro, we were treated to the next best thing – its seared version! We couldn’t fault this at all. I knew that this melt-in-your-mouth, oily yet buttery piece of perfection was already going to be the highlight of my week. With that saying, my birthday was just a week away too! ?
And thus the excitement just kept on coming in the form of this uni flown all the way from Hokkaido! It was incredibly fresh and soft, with a slightly refreshing undertone that you could taste after having it. More, please?
Our next dish was this salmon caviar from Tasmania. “One shot please. For the texture.” we were instructed by Minamishima’s side chef. I struggled at first to fit the whole thing in because the little seaweed flap on the side kept sticking out. However once that was done I could feel the little balls of caviar pop one by one – releasing little fun bursts of salty flavour!
If I had to pick and choose my least favourite dish of the night, it would probably have to be this piece of mackerel from Japan. It wasn’t by any means bad or anything, it was just a bit more simple and something that we could get anywhere else. And so it didn’t really stand out that much against the rest of the dishes.
Sea Eel (Anago)
Fun fact: Anago is the Japanese term for salt-water eels, while unagi typically refers to freshwater eels. While I personally can’t tell the difference between the taste of anago and unagi, I do know that this piece of anago was delightfully soft with a rich umami sauce on top which I definitely wouldn’t mind having again.
Our last dish of the 15 courses turned out to be tamagoyaki, a sweet egg omelette-like cake typically served as a last course in Japanese sushi bars. Although this one was nice and fluffy in texture, I still prefer the one from Sushi Ginza that had pieces of shrimp and whitefish subtly grinded into the egg cake.
Otoro Temaki $22.0
At the very start of the night, Randolph had advised us that they had two sushi specials that we could order as extras on top of the omakase menu. We opted to order one of the otoro temaki rolls for an extra $22 (we thought that it was good that they had informed us of the cost then and there).
So the special turned out to be chopped tuna belly served in a sushi cone with spring onions. Tony and I took turns eating the cone – both trying to get as much tuna belly as we could each because honestly – how often in life would you get chopped up bluefin tuna as your filling inside a sushi roll? ?
By this point the waitress advised us that the sushi portion of the night had finished and that if we were still hungry, we had the option of ordering more sushi dishes at an additional cost. We politely declined.
Stuffed Zucchini Dashi
After our sushi dishes were cleared away and a waitress attempted to blot away a spot of soy sauce that Tony had dropped on his placemat, we were each given a bowl of this stuffed zucchini dashi soup. I couldn’t tell what the zucchini was stuffed with but it tasted a bit like mince paste. As dashi typically forms the base for miso soup, I wasn’t surprised that it reminded a lot of the soup. So umami-licious and full of flavour! 😛
Hougi Cha Ice Cream w/ Roasted Green Tea
For dessert, we were served this Hougi Cha ice cream in a bowl of jelly and Japanese grapefruit – with an accompaniment of Hougi Cha green tea! I am not a big fan of tea, but the ice cream with the tea essence was quite nice. However the little pieces of grapefruit at the bottom were too bitter for my liking. We also had the option of ordering a special dessert at an extra cost, but we didn’t think that it was necessary.
Thanks for the shout, Tony ☺️
Overall Minamishima did live up to my expectations as the best omakase that I have had in Melbourne so far. But at $150 a head, it is by no means a cheap dinner. At least it’s still cheaper than a return ticket to Japan.
Although I should mention that I may be slightly biased when comparing it to the omakase at Shira Nui (priced around $110 per person). I really enjoyed sitting at the bar here and interacting with Chef Minamishima. When we went to Shira Nui on Valentine’s Day with Ivan and Ana – we didn’t get to sit at the bar which may have influenced my rating between the two restaurants. Food-wise though: Minamishima still had more of an authentic feel in their food than Shira Nui (which I may write a post about later on if I have time).
However both restaurants still do not live up to that of Sushi Ginza Onodera, which remains as the top omakase experience that I have ever had (priced at $250USD a head). And for many reasons too.
The stretched out bar at Minamishima could easily have seated up to 20 people which to me, detracted from the intimate feel of the place. We were lucky to have been seated closer towards the centre where we could easily interact with the chefs. It made me feel a bit bad for those sitting at the ends of the bar. At Sushi Ginza (and even at Shira Nui) the bar was a lot smaller and made for a more intimate setting – especially when there were only a maximum of seven bar seats at Sushi Ginza!
In terms of food, Sushi Ginza remains my favourite not just because it was a whopping 25 courses but because the seafood used there were ones that I had never come across before and is probably difficult to find outside of a few sushi restaurants. Adding to that, I got to experience bluefin tuna in at least four occasions at Sushi Ginza which makes it hard for anyone to complain really.
However I digress. Because I’m sure that the relevant question here is whether or not I would come back to Minamishima. I would come back, but perhaps on a more seasonal basis to see what other dishes might come up under a different season (fingers crossed for the highly anticipated fugu next time)!
Hands down, the best omakase in Melbourne that I’ve tried thus far.
4 Lord St,
Richmond VIC 3121