MELBOURNE | Leonie Upstairs is a new Japanese bar in Carlton, specialising in sake, temaki, and other elevated snacks that pair well with sake. Open at night, it’s hidden up a staircase to the side of Hareruya Pantry, a new Japanese cafe that offers bento boxes, mochi, and more, during the day. I recently visited on behalf of What’s on Melbourne to take a look.
Leonie Upstairs, along with Hareruya Pantry and Japanese cafes 279, and Le Bajo Milkbar, are owned/co-owned by Kantaro Okada. He’s a Kiwi-raised son of a sushi chef who once ran an Australian cafe in Tokyo, and has a passion for showcasing unique Japanese food experiences.
When you reach the top of the stairs and enter Leonie, you’re transported to Japan. It’s a minimal space, with lots of natural light while the sun’s out, light, simple fixtures and furniture, contrasted with dark timber floors. It’s very calming, and nails the atmosphere.
There’s 50 plus bottles of sake on the menu. When I spoke to Kantaro, he was keen to emphasis that he very much wants to showcase sake in a way that people might not have experienced it before. There are rare bottles, bottles from some of Japan’s oldest sake producers, and interesting things like unpasteurised and wild ferment sake.
The food, rather than being what comes first when designing the menu, is developed to match with the sake. Temaki, cone-shaped sushi hand rolls, are a focus. Engawa (flounder fin, here seared and dipped in a sweet soy sauce), and Umami (sea urchin with sea grapes) are two highlights.
Grab a seat at the open kitchen if you can, to watch the team expertly and delicately prepare each dish. Along with temaki, you can enjoy things like tempura, nambanzuke karaage with wasabi egg tartare, and chawanmushi (steamed egg custard) with eel, prawn, scallop, chestnut and shiitake. For dessert, try the Japanese/Australian take on the French dessert Mont Blanc, which replaces strings of chestnut puree with mochi and pavlova.
Whether you’re here for a sake and bite, or a full dinner experience, you won’t be disappointed. Venue four from Kantaro has only been open for three months, and it’s already another home run.
L1, 15-17 Lincoln Square South
Thu- Mon: 5:30pm to 10:30pm