Melbourne Restaurants

Warabi Review – Melbourne

As I was preparing for a gastronomic weekend in Melbourne, I knew I had to book Warabi. The omakase style Japanese restaurant, helmed by Kyoto born Head Chef Hajime Horiguchi, managed to snag Two Hats in the 2023 and 2024 Good Food Guide.

The Vibe at Warabi

Warabi dining counter

I spent several minutes futilely trying to locate the restaurant within the sprawling W Hotel. I ended up asking the concierge for help and she kindly escorted me to the entrance.

As you enter Warabi, your eyes are immediately drawn to the marbled onyx feature wall that casts a soft glow onto the long wooden counter. The rest of the 29 seat restaurant has been designed to be minimal and sleek.


The Food at Warabi

There’s no choice paralysis when it comes to ordering, as there’s only one option; the $285 tasting menu. A hallmark of many omakase restaurants is a seasonal menu, during my visit, it was aptly titled Hanami – “the Japanese tradition of celebrating the end of winter and the dawn of spring, where the finer weather begins to spread through Japan.”

Warabi menu

Another hallmark of these establishments is the act of flying in prized seafood from Tsukiji fish market. Hajime has eschewed this tradition, in favour of showcasing mostly Australia produce.

From my front row seat at the counter, I’m treated to a theatrical performance with the chef introducing each course as he carefully places it front of me. We start the show with the signature dish, starring spanner crab sourced from K’Gari (formerly Fraser Island). This striking opener was inspired by Hajime’s experience living and working in Queensland. A generous serving of the crab meat sits on a bed of jelly made of tosazu, a sweetened soy sauce vinegar, and is crowned with caviar and gold leaf. The yuzu infused dry ice in the ceramic dish billows out in dramatic fashion, creating a soothing bubbling sound, transporting guests to the beach.

Spanner crab

Each dish that follows highlights not just the craftsmanship of the kitchen but also a deep respect for the produce. You have the Great Ocean Road duck that is paired with delicate somen noodles and a duck broth. Tasmanian rock lobster is given the tempura treatment and served with a black seaweed cracker and lobster sauce. The wagyu beef is sourced from Yamagata, one of the top prefectures in Japan producing the prized meat. It is simply divine, the oh so tender beef dissolves in my mouth.

Great Ocean Road duck
Lobster
Sashimi
Coral trout
Yamagata Wagyu beef
Yamagata Wagyu beef

A refreshing palate cleanser provides a brief pause before we enter the second act of this performance – the 8 piece sushi selection. Picking my favourite piece is an arduous task as I’m torn between the wagyu, sea urchin, caviar combination and the toro (fatty tuna) hand roll.

Palate cleanser

Osuimono, a light, clear soup, is served; signalling the end of the sushi course and the savoury dishes.

Osuimono

Dessert is tea themed and consists of three components: a house made mochi, genmaicha ice-cream with granola, and soothing green tea.

House made mochi
Genmaicha ice-cream
Green tea

The Service at Warabi

Image courtesy of Warabi

Although the star of the service is undoubtedly Chef Hajime , I do want to commend the rest of the waitstaff for providing attentive hospitality. From the thoughtful hand towel (oshibori) to the careful folding of my napkin when I left my seat to the swift clearing of my plates, it was evident guests are cared for.


The Verdict

In a world filled with overrated, made for Instagram dishes, Warabi delivers a feast for the eyes, that’s actually appetising and filling. It’s also reignited my passion for fine dining.

Score: 17/20
Read about my scoring system.

Also read: Kisume Review – Melbourne


TLDR

Vibe: Front row seats to a theatre show.
Stand out dishes: Spanner crab with caviar, Yamagata wagyu beef, toro (fatty tuna) hand roll
Drinks: Three beverage pairings including an non alcoholic option, as well as an extensive menu of sake, beer, and wine.
Service: Attentive but not stuffy.
Cost: $285 tasting menu, excluding drinks.


Warabi
408 Flinders Ln
Melbourne VIC 3000

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