As one of the most coveted dining experiences in Melbourne, Yugen Dining has grown exponentially in the year since its opening. Located in South Yarra, the restaurant is an expansion of the fine-dining Yugen Tea Bar unveiled in 2021. The tea bar quickly built a reputation as a high-class establishment, serving some of the finest loose-leaf teas from across the world with a seasonally selected menu of savoury and sweet small plates. As a result of the tea bar’s success, culinary director Stephen Nairn and the LK Hospitality group were inspired to develop their business by creating a gourmet sushi restaurant.
Yugen Dining prides itself on the cultural richness of its dishes created by head chef Alex Yu, who wanted to create a menu inspired by traditional Asian flavours and made with premium Australian and Japanese produce. These dishes were designed for guests to tune into all five senses, denoting what they see, hear, feel, and smell in addition to what they taste.
The colourful and vivid menu is complimented by the building’s design, as the six-metre stone walls create an opulent underground space. The interior can be defined into three distinct areas, the first being the lower dining room, which anchors the space as a hub for customers to enjoy considered dishes from the menu. The secondary spaces are the Omakase Bar and the Golden Orb, which offer a more intimate dining space on the higher mezzanine level. Reservations at the six-seat Omakase Bar are incredibly exclusive, with these spaces typically being booked up months in advance. Its separation from the other diners was designed to complement the omakase at the heart of this experience, as this type of sushi meal is traditionally consumed in a calm and tranquil setting.
The privacy of the omakase experience builds on the idea of trust between the chef and consumer with the term ‘omakase’ translating to ‘I leave it up to you’. Chef Yu wanted to reflect this by creating an intimate space to guide guests on a memorable journey of sensory discovery. The nature of omakase allows Yu to reinvent the menu for every sitting, making each experience fresh and personal to each group. Renowned for his blending of culinary elements to produce distinct flavour outcomes, for example, he developed his impeccable pearlescent sushi rice by combining four different types of rice with five kinds of vinegar. As a result, Yu regularly changes the menu to include new dishes. Some of these dishes include kingfish sashimi with black garlic and butter ponzu; octopus with tomato ponzu and mustard; Victorian smoked eel and fried kale with green tea-infused rice.
This experience starts at a cost of $285 per person, with the option to add a sake pairing for an additional $180. Beverage specialists, Thibaut Chuzeville and Ryan Kimball use their highly detailed knowledge to select a beverage to pair perfectly with every taste on the menu. Yugen offers a variety of drinks, including 20 sakes by the glass and an expansive wine list of 250 varietals. The skilled sommeliers are available to provide guests with a detailed flavour story for each beverage, guiding them on what would best complement the dishes they will be enjoying.
Recently, Yugen developed an additional 8-seat omakase experience hosted in the Yugen Tea bar. The Nidaime Omakase offers a pared-down version of the original omakase of 16-18 courses, accompanied by an ever-changing menu of rare wine, sake, and tea. These dishes are still prepared by the same team as the original experience; however, the menu will also include more experimental sample dishes like local oysters and unagi tamago. The cost of Nidaime is slightly less, pricing at $175 per person for the standard experience, because of the more casual atmosphere. This option is perfect for guests who are eager to delve into the magnificent flavour profiles created by Chef Yu as the reservations are more readily available.
Yugen Dining is solidifying its place as one of the favourite high-class restaurants in Melbourne. Its mixture of traditional Asian cuisine and modern elements, with an in-house DJ and cocktail bar, makes this restaurant a hit with contemporary fine-dining clientele.