It’s clear from the outset that Melbourne’s The Modern Eatery isn’t your traditional Japanese restaurant. It could have something to do with a neon red cat illuminating the entrance, a bandana around its head and one eye covered by a star patch. It’s a spin on the ceramic maneki-neko, a common Japanese talisman manning entryways to shops and restaurants, thought to bring good luck to its owner.
“It’s like a pop art, or pop music,” head chef Seiya Kurogi says of his 90-seat restaurant. “There’s a lot of traditional Japanese restaurants here in Melbourne but this one is a pop-modern Japanese eatery.”
Like its Perth predecessor, The Modern Eatery Melbourne favours Japan’s aburi cooking style where ingredients are lightly torched directly by a flame to impart a smoky sear on the outer and maintain rawness on the inside.
“The aburi style is everywhere in Japan, not only for the sushi but the aburi is a traditional style of cooking in Japan,” explains Kurogi. “I think it’s very late to emphasise the aburi style in Australia – it’s a very common style in Japan.”
Not just reserved for the sushi side of things, Kurogi is plating up aburi wagyu beef with truffle salt and applying the technique to salmon, prawns and even cooked miso chicken.
Other bursts of pop are seen in the raw bar: seared miso king salmon is teamed with sweet potato fries and blackberries. The fries pop up again in the Chasing Sunset roll between egg omelette, cucumber, seared salmon and garlic mayo. There's bao bae, and the Miyazaki chicken is an ode to Kurogi's hometown: a comfort dish comprised of deep fried chicken tempura, house made tartare, nanban sauce and slaw.
Earning his stripes in his father’s Kyushu restaurant, Kurogi honed his mod-Japan fusion style in Vancouver, which is believed to be home to the Californian roll.
“Here I met [The Modern Eatery's owner] Jason Tan, who also shared a passion for traditional but exciting food. Together we decided to spread the Japanese culture in Australia," Kurogi says. “I want people from Japan to be able to walk into the restaurant and eat something they know and love, while appreciating the modern twist.”
The mood is more low-lit bar than restaurant at Modern, which was what Kurogi and Tan were going for. The desserts are just as, well, modern; Japanese-style cheesecake and a matcha pannacotta with yuzu crème are there to brighten the mood. Yuzu, matcha, cheesecake: The buzzy Japanese ingredient hashtags are endless.
The Modern Eatery is open daily for lunch, 11:30am - 2:30pm and dinner, 5:30pm - 10pm. 176 Swan Street, Richmond.