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Sushi and Cocktails: The Unholy Quest to Find Melbourne's Best Date Spot Continues

Something about the brightly lit, glitzy, open space made me feel rich, famous and charming – all the best ways to feel on a date.
COLLAGE: wjarek / Tornado design / Burazin via Getty / Arielle Richards​​​
COLLAGE: wjarek / Tornado design / Burazin via Getty / Arielle Richards

VICE is reviewing all of Melbourne's best date spots. See Old Palm Liquor and Bar Margaux.

MELBOURNE, Australia – The second day of spring awoke a lust in my belly which could only be satiated by getting tarted up to consume sushi and cocktails at a fancy restaurant with a hot date by my side. This was my dream. And if it didn’t come to fruition the entire month would be ruined. 

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But before we go any further: this is not a budget date series. 

If I wanted to go on budget dates (I don’t), I wouldn’t want to write about it. Have a picnic in the park (corny lol). Invite them over (slutty). Take them to your favourite low-key restaurant (Viet Rose!!!). Buy them a banh mi (cute and a potential flex if you know a good spot). Go to your local for a few beers (timeless Aussie classic). 

What the fuck is a “cheap date”? Inflation is at 6.1 percent. We all know how much a drink costs. GET A GRIP!

On a first date, it makes sense to keep the investment at a low-stakes point – just a normal spot where you can find out if you hate each other in a chill environment – in which case somewhere like the pub or literally any bar would do. But a second date? A third? Date night? Friend date? You want somewhere that offers an experience that you can enjoy together. Creating memories to last a lifetime and the like. The question is: where (and what) is worth investing in? And what can you expect when you’re there?

Seeing as I’m the one exploiting my dating life for content, those are the kind of questions I’ll be asking, and places I’ll be reviewing. 

YAKIMONO

I understand attending a popular restaurant owned by one of Australia’s most successful hospitality groups is a rogue “casual date” choice. It was for myself, and probably would be for you, too. But whatever. 

When my date suggested it, I was sceptical. I didn’t really want to go to a “Japanese-inspired” restaurant, especially if I was going to be drawing attention to it with a review. Commodifying the aesthetics and cuisine of cultures around the world is something Australian restauranteurs absolutely love to do and the worst part is that it’s incredibly lucrative for them.

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I digress – there were two other great-looking locations that I will be trying in the future, Shoya Melbourne and Kenzan, but we ended up giving Yakimono a go, purely because it looked like fun.

And you know what? It was a lot of fun. The fit-out is absolutely absurd – a pastel neon ejaculation. Yakimono said “the cyber-punk fandom is dying, we must build a church of worship in its honour”. It was all so silly, but to be honest the bright lighting and exuberant decor generated an insanely vibrant atmosphere. The place is huge and can seat something like 300 people, so it’s a good choice for when you don’t have a booking. We were seated at the bar facing their open kitchen, where we could watch the chefs work. This was a huge plus: lots to look at if you’re scared to look your date in the eye.

The service was quick and lovely – all their servers were wearing little bum bags looped over one shoulder, hilariously 2017 eshay-core. I initially thought our waiter was some random wanting to chat with us because when someone is wearing a bag indoors you just assume they’re on their way out. Like where y’all off to? What you got in the bag? Many questions entertained us as we watched the chefs grill skewers on an open fire and delicately slice sashimi.

The menu was huge and vaguely cryptic so we asked our server for recommendations, which they happily provided. From the “raw” section we had the kingfish sashimi which was actually sublime, sitting in a pool of deliciously tart neon liquid, ume-zu and green kosho. 

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It’s hard to fuck up edamame but this was the best I’ve had in my life – salted perfectly… grilled over charcoal… charred is an elite flavour. 

For sushi we had the prawn one which I chose because it had divine finger lime on it, and it did not disappoint. It was great. The sushi serving was huge, which was very satisfying. My date had the pork skewers which I tasted for the content even though I don’t eat meat. To my ignorant palate most grilled meat just tastes like the lamb chops mum made when I was a kid and that’s what these tasted like. My date said they were ok. 

We had four cocktails and to be honest the only standout was the “Shibuya” with Calpico, white chocolate, passionfruit and verjuice because it tasted like stealing a drink of the tinned passionfruit at Christmas before mum puts it on the pavlova. I can’t be the only one who did that. Anyway, their cocktail list is really fun but I think with the ones we tried – “Harajuku”, “Nippori” and “Roppongi” – the pizazz got lost in the sauce of too many niche ingredients.

TLDR;

This was a really fun spot for a date. It’s on the pricier side for what the food is but ultimately you’re paying for the vibes. The music had nightclub energy in a way that wasn’t off-putting (rare) and actually produced a really enjoyable atmosphere, and the open kitchen and ridiculous neon fit-out was incredibly entertaining. The crowd was what you might expect, if you know what I’m saying. Something about the brightly lit, glitzy, open space made me feel rich, famous and charming – all the best ways to feel on a date. But it was overall really laid back and not at all intimidating.

It’s the kind of venue where some tech bro will be like “I know a really cool place” then bring you there, and then when you’re there he’ll pronounce all of the menu items in an accent and be like “God I love Japan, have you been?” then proceed to tell you all about the vending machines and the time he ended up doing coke and karaoke with locals and then look deep into your eyes and earnestly tell you, “If you haven’t had sushi in Japan, you haven’t had sushi.”

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It’s great for a cute, silly, ridiculous, absurd, clownish, jester moment, and I cannot ignore my desire to return. 

But is it the best? Onto the next…

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