temple, Anthony Huckstep is hooked by a sophisticated experience.
Anthony Huckstep’s verdict on a Melbourne seafood temple.
I DON’T TRUST ANYONE
who doesn’t like a prawn cocktail. For one, we have arguably the best prawns on the planet. Second, iceberg is the king of lettuces. And the tomato, Worcestershire, mayonnaise twang of Marie Rose sauce creates a holy trinity of joy. So when I eagerly pull on the bib at Shannon Bennett’s sustainably focused fish restaurant, Iki Jime, the prawn cocktail reels me in. Five Maloolabah king prawns poached in court bouillon hang their tails off the edge of a dark-grey plate. They’re sprinkled in crumbled cured duck-egg yolk, kombu, wasabi and finger lime. It’s finger food and rightly comes with a hot towel to wipe your digits. They’re fantastic, but about as far from a prawn cocktail as ABBA is from AC/DC.
Iki Jime (named for the Japanese humane fish-killing method) is a slick, dark den in the hull of Shannon Bennett’s former Bistro Vue. With a sophisticated bar, open kitchen and chef’s table, it’s got a special night out written all over it.
Where Sydney’s Saint Peter brings a fins-to-scale approach to under-used species, Iki Jime is more focused on the catch of the day and administering culinary smoke and mirrors to not only highlight the beauty of the ingredient, but provide a bit of magic for the diner, too. I’m not convinced we need the show, but it’s wonderful to see this renewed focus on our world-class seafood at the pointier end of dining.
Head chef Sam Homan and his brigade are ageing fish, making tongue-in-cheek snacks and letting guests decide whether they’d like the catch of the day – think hapuka, flathead, King George whiting, barramundi and red emperor – steamed or wood-grilled, and what they’d like it served with – potato dashi, brown butter vinaigrette, or clam and lemon myrtle.
Robbins Island blue mackerel benefits from a few days hanging in the coolroom to help firm the flesh and draw out some moisture. The skin is seared, the flesh raw, and it’s served with a dollop of bonito cream, cubes of dashi jelly, and a paste of white soy, fermented mushroom and Padrón peppers, which all complement the rich, meaty and oily fish. Then, to keep it Australian, a fish snag sanga. Blue-eye trevalla is minced and encased in a skin, then housed in a small sweet roll. It’s a two-mouthful morsel, and should be selling by the boatload in the bar.
Bermagui blue-eye trevalla, aged for three days, is steamed and served with potato dashi with a greater depth than the fish plumbs itself. Though the combination is nice, the flesh of the fish is a bit too tight. Nevertheless, Iki Jime shines a new light on seafood dining, snubbing its nose at the seafood basket mentality of old, and celebrating our ocean bounty with a convincing contemporary confidence.
FROM LEFT: kingfish with sweetcorn and smoked scallops; the chef’s table; prawn cocktail.