MELBOURNE | Toko Melbourne is owner Matt Yazbek’s 4th Japanese restaurant, following the original Toko in Sydney, another in Dubai and Tokonoma Sydney. In a homage to those that have come before it, the Izakaya style menu, drinks list and the fit-out take the best of what has made the other venues successful and adds to that some new touches.
The deceptively large space is split into several distinct areas and fits very well in its “south of the river” locale. The main room consists of a long bar, seated dining area for 120 people and casual stand-up tables, all which overlook the open kitchen and sushi bar. To the side is an outdoor area with a Japanese garden along with a small, whiskey and cocktail bar with couches and a more relaxed vibe. There’s also a private dining room available. The fit-out, a collaboration between architect Annie Snell, Toko interior designer Matt Darwon, and Yazbek is understated and very stylish, making use of natural timber, exposed brick and low lighting.
The launch was a curious mix of those in the world of food and fashion, along with media personalities and B-grade celebrities. Banish what stereotypes might be entering your mind about the kind of place that Toko might be however – throughout the evening my guest and I were impressed by the professionalism and friendliness of the wait staff. There wasn’t the slightest hint of pretension from the staff, and they were all on top of their game when it came to knowing about the food and drinks on offer and the concept of the venue.
So the space is classy, and the service is top notch. What about the food and drinks? As would be expected given the offerings at the other Toko restaurants, the drinks list is very impressive. The focus is on creative cocktails, rare and top shelf Japanese whiskeys (for example the Nikka Taketsuru 17 yo, which I loved when in Japan but always seems to be out of stock in Australia) and a carefully selected sake range. Toko even have their own sake, Tokubetsu Junmai, which has been created in conjunction with Japan’s Nanbu Bijin brewery. For beer drinkers it’s the usual Asahi Super Dry on tap, along with the less common in Australia Asahi Black.
You might be thinking that there’s a risk of Toko choosing style over substance when it comes to the food but my guest and I were impressed with everything that we ate. Our favourite was one of the most simple dishes offered during the night – thinly sliced kingfish with a yuzu dressing and chives (hiramasa no usuzukuri). The sushi and tempura were also very good, as was the double cooked pork belly and the beef tataki.
At the end of the night, my guest and I walked out of Toko with smiles on our faces. At its core, Toko is all about simple dishes and authentic flavours that let the top quality produce take centre stage – exactly what Japanese food is about. I know I’ll be back for more.
Toko Melbourne opens on Friday 11 September 2014.
142 Greville Street
Wed – Sun: 5:00pm to late