Tucked down a one-way street in Richmond and buried within a residential complex like many establishments in Tokyo, is a Japanese restaurant unlike any other in Melbourne. At the heart of the omakase offering from sushi master and owner Koichi Minamishima lies not only 25 years of experience, but also an increasingly rare culinary art form.
Koichi was born in the Aichi prefecture in Nagoya and began his gastronomic career as many 20-year-old Japanese boys do – washing dishes. His first job saw him visit the local fish market daily with his sushi master. After two years, Koichi was allowed to prepare food by his side; but it was only after five years as an apprentice that he was permitted to serve customers face-to-face. Later he moved to Yotsume as a sushi chef, also in Nagoya. He spent three years there before being transferred to Kenzan in Melbourne in 1998. Koichi remained at Kenzan until 2013, accepting the position of head sushi maker during his last few years there. Now, with his family honour tied to his namesake 40-seater restaurant, Koichi’s goal is simple: to fill each customer with joy through the art of sushi.
Every minute detail at Minamishima has been carefully considered. Koichi hand-sourced the stone and ceramic dishes licked with metallic shimmer from Japan, as well as the fine glass sake jugs, cast-iron teapots and hand-made cutlery. The secluded space is undeniably intimate, with diners choosing to sit either along a towering black banquette, in a private room for eight, or at the 10-plus metre sushi bar. The sleek room with its muted colour scheme is deliberately sparse, a blank canvas that emphasizes the theatre of sushi where each mouthful speaks for itself.
Two dining options are available. Those who partake in the 15-course sushi omakase at the bar will have every nuance explained to them as each piece is served one at a time, from how to eat it to the story behind the ingredients. The alternative is traditional table service, where diners receive a few dishes to begin, followed by sushi, and finally a Japanese dessert reflective of the seasons.
Produce is local where possible, but Koichi wasn’t willing to limit his offering based on what was available in Melbourne. He spent many months travelling around Japan sourcing ingredients impossible to find on home soil. Seafood comes both from local shores as well as the renowned Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo; vinegar for his secret-recipe rice hails from his home in Nagoya, and salt has travelled from Okinawa, the southernmost prefecture of Japan.
Joining Koichi at the sushi bar is Yoshiki Tano, former owner and chef of Melbourne establishment Yu-u. Randolph Cheung (former proprietor and sommelier at Asiana Restaurant and Azelea Restaurant, and ex-head sommelier at The Atlantic and Flower Drum) has assembled an international beverage menu with a spotlight on Japanese sake. Randolph and Koichi collaborated closely to ensure synergy between the wine and sake menu pairings.
Minimashima is the most intimate Japanese dining experience in Melbourne. The philosophy behind omakase involves placing utter faith in the integrity of the chef and handing overall decision-making. This trust between diner and chef results in a personalised experience: Koichi will continue to share the origin of ingredients and traditional etiquette with new guests, while also recalling returning visitors’ favourite pieces. English may be Koichi’s second language, but he is fluent in the sushi bar exchange. Koichi adopts a humble approach at Minimashima, where tradition is followed instead of trends to bestow Melbourne with a genuine taste of Japan.