Despite the fact that Sydney stalwart Toko first sashayed onto the Melbourne dining scene back in September, I’ve been saving auditioning this little Prahran sashimi for a special occasion. I figured turning 28, last weekend, was a good a reason as any, and it was worth the wait.
Bringing a whiff of Sydney to Melbourne
The fourth child in the Toko family (with two Sydney variations and a Dubai offspring), Toko Melbourne has commandeered the Greville Street spot that once housed Fog restaurant. The cavernous dining space has been transformed into a vibrant, modern restaurant, with lots of different dining zones, an outdoor cocktail garden and a private whiskey lounge, all with subtle cues to transport you to Tokyo, like the cherry blossom motifs on the bathroom walls. There’s definitely no hit-you-in-the-head neon or anime.
Although selling itself as a ‘traditional izakaya in-formal Japanese dining’ experience, Toko Melbourne is true to its roots and whisks together harbour city pretentiousness, semi-fanciness and a hint of party, creating a chic dining space that you definitely wouldn’t wear Crocs to. (Although when is an appropriate Croc-wearing time?)
To get a coveted cushioned stool, you either need to book well in advance or get there early (pre-6:30pm). If you fail to do either, take sympathy in the fact that you can wait in the outdoor bar area being kept company by a drinks list that’s longer than the Macquarie Dictionary, with lots of sake, Asahi and Japanese whiskey, as you’d expect, and also plenty of non-Japanese cocktails and wines.
Seated at the sashimi bar, we damn-straight had the best seats in the house, able to watch the highly skilled itamaes wielding their knives and blow torches, plating up very delicate pieces of rice art faster than a Shinkansen.
Sushi, sashimi and salmon at its finest
The menu is mammoth, so feeling typically indecisive when it came to my food ordering, I put our tastebuds in the reliable hands of the chef not moving past the tasting menu and, in the mood to celebrate, opted for the more expensive of the two ($68pp vs $88pp).
We didn’t wait long for the two-hour flowing feast to kick off, with the freshest of Tasmanian oysters soon arriving, accessorised by a delicate sweet sauce. Then a combo of salmon tartare and venison carpaccio appeared – both divine. After that, the itamae in-front personally delivered an assorted sashimi board that has only resulted in some sushi snobbery – I feel the need to shun Sushi Sushi from here forward. Main course was preambled by a couple of crispy soft shell crabs. Then the main hurrah: smoked miso king salmon, wagyu tenderloin beef and broccolini with an addictive sesame dressing. Then an interlude of white miso soup, followed by sorbet, and the finale of dark chocolate mousse boldly emblazoned with the four namesake letters: T-O-K-O.
A birthday present to myself, the $88 menu was a total treat and worth the extra, with the experience one of perfection. If hands-tied-behind-my-back I had to choose my favourite plate, it would be narrowly the salmon tartare with its addictive sweet potato rice crackers. For the husband it was the salmon of kings, of which, at the end of the night, I had to convince him not to make a run for it and grab the unmanned salmons on the grill.
Toko Melbourne is…
Sorry L’Hotel Gitan, you’ve been hip and shouldered off the top of my best eats in 2016 list.
Still just as popular six months on, Toko has well and truly stomped its sake stamp on Melbourne. If you look past the touch of Surry Hills in Melbourne, the haughtiness of the waiters and the relatively eye-watering prices, you can expect a Japanese dining experience executed to artful perfection.
Toko Melbourne | 142 Greville Street, Prahran, Victoria
Phone: (03) 9521 3155