Published on 5 July 2022
Léonie Upstairs opened in April and has been charming diners with Japanese cuisine and sake pairings in a reimagined, date-night setting ever since. It’s the latest venture from Tsunagu Project, the people behind 279 Victoria Street, Le Bajo Milkbar in North Melbourne, and Hareruya Pantry, which is just downstairs from Léonie.
Okada’s vision for Léonie was a warming, softly lit space to serve as a backdrop to a complete Japanese dining experience, with a laid-back vibe. A place you could visit for a few rolls of fresh temaki sushi (aka hand rolls) and sake, or linger with a longer menu and carefully crafted cocktails.
The cocoon of a loft was designed by Okada himself, and features an array of Akari lamps by Noguchi Isamu. He enlisted the help of Davies for incredible joinery, and deployed ceramics from the Arita 1616 collection by Scholten & Baijings.
On the plate, Okada has designed a specialty suite of 12 temaki sushi, and a do-it-yourself temaki set if you’re feeling adventurous. There’s also enough in the way of complementary snacks, small plates and single bites to turn your visit into a degustation, should you choose, from scallop carpaccio to baked oysters and a nightly tempura special.
Here’s what Okada recommends for your first visit to Léonie.
How about a drink?
It’s all about sake for us at Léonie. We might well have the longest sake list on the pour in Melbourne, amassing a total of 50 different bottles. The educational aspect of sake is important, taking our guests through the process of fermenting sake and inviting them to embark on a new tasting experience, not unlike the way restaurants approach wine. There’s a broad spectrum of sakes to choose from, whether it’s daiginjo, ginjo, junmaia and honjozou, or red sakes, sweeter kijoshu sakes, sparkling sake or aged sakes.
I’m here for a good time not a long time.
Grab a seat by the sake fridge on our high table and opt for the smoked ferments and cheese plate. You’ll want to chase those tasty morsels with a glass or two of the Terada Honke Katori 90 sake.
Got anything light and fresh?
The scallop carpaccio is a crowd pleaser, all superbly fresh and flavourful in a bath of grapefruit, dill and shiso. Pair it with a couple of baked oysters and some temaki.
What if I like tasty food but don’t eat animals?
It’s got to be the zucchini flower tempura on a bed of tomato, spinach and tofu. Follow with the kinoko mushroom temaki and a hearty bowl of nambanzuke – seasonal vegetables steeped in a soy vinaigrette.
Which dish best captures the Léonie vibe?
Temaki sushi is our specialty – these hand rolls are the core of Léonie’s food offering. Don’t miss the engawa (flounder fin, here seared and dipped in a sweet soy sauce) or our most popular temaki, the Umami, which is sea urchin with sea grapes.
Let’s go big. Let’s go crazy. What have you got for me?
Alrighty. If you’re strapping in at our temaki bar seating for the night, you’ll want to stagger some small plates, single bites, and then of course temaki of your choice for the crescendo. Go for some house-made pickles and tonight’s tempura to kick off, followed by chawanmushi (the classic savoury egg custard), steamed vegetables, or nambanzuke Karaage chicken with wasabi egg tartare is so tasty, it’s a surefire win. And finish with those two or three temaki sushi…each!
And to close?
I’d pour a glass of Emishiki Monsoon Kijoshu sake, or Houou Biden Hizou Ume. The latter is a sake-based plum wine, which fits into the meal like a dessert wine or a glass of port: sweet, rich and soul-warming — the best nightcap there is.
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