Yuzu opened in Melbourne quietly, without fanfare or hill screaming. It doesn’t even have an urban spoon page or a website yet. Unfortunately this means you can’t spend the morning at your desk studying the menu and daydreaming about what you will be feeding yourself for lunch (sorry).
The restaurant occupies a large square space on Church Lane (to the rear of Collins Street). Church Lane is one of Melbourne’s lunchey lanes in the heart of the corporate district. It is good for a quick focaccia at cafenatics or a takeaway sushi at O-bento but that’s it really. I expected that due to its location Yuzu would be much the same, a lunch spot targeted at hungry corporates.
I went to Yuzu’s opening on Monday for lunch. You could still smell the paint on the walls. As soon as I stepped into this restaurant I could just feel that it wasn’t your average Church Lane lunch joint. For a start, there was a door man waiting to open the door for us as we approached. But best of all, we were greeted with a loud ‘irasshaimase!’’ by four smiley staff members as we entered.
That one little word instantly transported me back to the magical weeks I spent in Japan a few years ago. It reminded me of all the gorgeous food experiences I had there. ‘Irasshaimase’ means ‘welcome’ or ‘come in’ in Japanese. I don’t think I walked into one restaurant, café or Izakaya in Japan without hearing that happy welcome as I walked through the door. My first impression was that this place really is authentic, really is special. I don’t think anyone has ever welcomed me that way in Melbourne before.
The fitout was nice, very Japanese in style. Dark wood tables and chairs. Lots of seating which is fantastic. Freestanding tables throughout, tables and couches along the perimeter, and even stools along the sushi bar.
The menu is vast. Cold dishes like beef tataki, and a variety of sushi and sashimi, 16 different types of ramen, including the option of a ramen set (which includes an appetiser of your choice and tea), udon, soba, a fantastic selection of donburi (again, 16 options!) and 6 lunch sets. I can see how this place will eventually be more of a dinner restaurant than a luch spot.
We went for lunch set A. which the menu said included butterfish, gyoza and sashimi with sides of soup, salad and rice. The miso soup arrived first. It had a lovely soy flavour and included the usual suspects of small cubes of tofu, wakame and spring onions. A very promising and delicious start.
The lunch set came out on a wooden tray. It was beautifully presented with each part of the meal sitting on a separate dish of a different size and shape. Again it all reminded me of the fantastic meals I enjoyed in Japan. The thing I noticed though as soon as the lunch set was put in front of me was the distinct lack of the promised gyoza, and the inclusion of the takoyaki. I thought perhaps we had been given the wrong lunch set, but when I checked the menu takoyaki was not on any of them. But hey this was Yuzu’s first day, I was prepared to grant them some leeway. So we said nothing and tucked in.
The takoyaki was ok. Soft in the middle, light flavour, but no really big good juicy bits of octopus. Perhaps the octopus had been minced. It was topped with mayonnaise and okonomiyaki sauce which was ok but not stand out for me.
The sashimi was again, ok. We were given 2 slices of salmon and 2 slices of kingfish. The salmon was fine. We thought the kingfish however had an unexpected texture. My lunch partner and I discussed this point and just couldn’t put a finger on what it was. It wasn’t like your usual sashimi, it didn’t have the usual spring to it that would suggest freshness. My lunch partner described it as having an almost powdery sort of texture. I was a little concerned, but this was their first day. Surely the fish was fresh on their first day.
The real true standout of the lunch set was the gorgeous butterfish. It had a beautiful, soft, melt in your mouth texture and was topped with a delicious sweet and sticky sauce. The fish had an slight char grilled flavour to it. It was fantastic. I wish I had just ordered a full plate of that gorgeous sea creature. My lunch partner and I both loved it and used the side of rice to sponge up all the left over sauce. Not a drop was wasted.
Yuzu was OK, but it was their opening. I expected a little more, surely they wanted to impress. The service was great, it was fantastically fit out, but unfortunately the food just didn’t get there for me.
I thought Yuzu had potential. I will visit again in 3 months and give it another go. I am fair, and they did welcome me so sweetly. Stay tuned.
Yuzu, Rear 480 Collins Street Melbourne 3000 (entry via Church Lane) **10 July update– Urbanspoon page now added**