For my birthday this year we decided to try Kappo, a newish Japanese place in the city. It's the fancy cousin of the lovely Hihou and Izakaya Den so we had high hopes for a good night out. The first trick is gaining access - there's a door on the Spring Street side of the building that looks like the entry, but it's closed and there's a sign pointing you up Flinders Lane. The next door you find is somewhat forebodingly shut and after pushing and pulling fruitlessly, I finally figured out that you have to press the bell and have the staff let you in. Awkward.
Once we'd made it over that hurdle everything was much more straightforward - we were seated at the bar overlooking the little kitchen and given a quick run down of the way dining at Kappo works. Your 'menu' is basically a list of about 50 ingredients and all you have to do is decide whether you want 5, 7 or 9 courses and whether there are any ingredients you especially want to have included or excluded. We went with the 7 course option ($120) and let them do whatever they wanted within our vego constraints.
Cindy kicked things off with a ryu-kan cocktail ($23), a bittersweet concoction of whiskey, campari, umeshu and grapefruit, with a big spherical ice cube keeping things chilled. I went down the matching drinks path ($80) meaning I was bombarded with an array of excellent wine and sake, none of which I paid sufficient attention to to really comment on, except to note that the matched drinks will leave you pretty toasted - read on as my blog post gets vaguer and vaguer the later into the night it gets.
The first course involved still more booze - a little shot of warm sake, served with charred king brown mushrooms that had been flavoured with yuzu. Even though I often get matched drinks at fancy restaurants, I rarely get the actual matching that goes on, but this combination made a lot of sense to me, with the sake really accentuating the umami of the mushrooms.
Next up was a warm vegetable salad, served with a wonderful walnut miso and a plate full of delicacies for dipping - gingko nuts, persimmon coated in sesame seeds and charred peppers grown in the restaurant's own plot near Fed Square.
The soup that came next was one of the highlights of the meal - a seaweed based dashi, with some starchy tofu that somehow included potato, fried lotus roots, black radish and spring onion. It was closely followed by another plate of teeny delicacies, including pomegranate seeds, slippery jack mushrooms, crisply lotus root, a black rice crumble, tomato, wakame, lime and salt. Every little taste was wonderful.
Then came a salad, with pine mushrooms, spinach, golden beetroot and a pine-nut dressing, all covered in crispy slivers of something that I didn't manage to note down and couldn't identify by taste alone. The visual highlight of the night was probably the gorgeous veggie sushi that followed, involving shitake mushrooms, impossibly delicate capsicum, asparagus, pickled ginger and some peppery radish.
Things got a bit heartier with the next dish - yuba with saltbush, kale and shitake mushrooms.
The last of the savoury dishes has us already starting to struggle for stomach space - a simple bowl of rice with delicate pickles, daikon and bean curd.
The desserts were a combination of the winningly simple (a yuzu and honey sorbet) and the impressively fancy (sweet potato chips and sweet potato ice cream, with chocolate and a brown sugar sauce).
Just when we thought we could finally stop eating, a final tray of petit fours turned up - chocolate pastry cigars, a moscato grape jelly made with arrowroot and little brown sugar and red bean spheres. It was too much food, but too excellent to ignore.
The meal was finished off with a soothing roasted tea.
The staff were friendly and efficient and the atmosphere was relaxed (I was surprised to see empty tables in such a small place, although I guess a Wednesday night degustation is pretty indulgent). I'm sure they would easily cater for vegan visitors too - our guess was that everything we had up to dessert was vegan anyway. Eating at Kappo is a wonderful experience - every detail is impressive. You choose your own chopsticks and sake cups from their wonderful selections, you get to watch the chefs piecing together impossibly delicate dishes and you get served up a steady stream of excellent and varied food.
There are a only a couple of blog reviews of Kappo that I could find - both The Peckish Connoisseur and Frog Foodventure were very positive.
1 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Accessibility: There are a few steps as you enter. Inside, tables are reasonably close together - there are a couple of regular height, but mostly it's the bar or at a high table. Toilets were gendered and narrow.