Hot in the City: Leave it to the chef at Chairman Group’s exclusive new venue Mu Omakase

Michelle Rowe 4 June 2021 10
Chef Shinya Nakano

Chef Shinya Nakano puts his sashimi skills to work in preparation for the opening of Mu Omakase. Photo: Michelle Rowe.

One of the most memorable meals I’ve eaten was in a small restaurant off the glitzy main drag of Dotonbori in Osaka, a city famous for its fried food.

Beyond the ubiquitous takoyaki (octopus dumplings), kushiage (fried meat and veggie skewers) and okonomiyaki (savoury pancakes) in Japan’s third-largest city was Naniwa Kappo Kigawa, tucked down an alley hidden from the gaudy shop fronts, deafening pachinko parlours and giant plastic replicas of sushi and shellfish.

The Michelin-starred restaurant specialised in kappo cuisine, a less formal version of the better-known omakase or kaiseki style – essentially multiple small courses decided by the chef.

For a non-Japanese speaker, it ticked a lot of boxes. No tricky menu decisions, no awkward pointing at other diners’ food and hoping for the best, no food envy. Along with the 11 other diners perched at the sushi bar, I left my fate in the hands of the chef, who prepared every utterly delicious course in front of us over a lengthy and enjoyable evening.

Mu Omakase scampi

Scampi poached in sake and topped with finger lime and roe will feature on Mu Omakase’s menu. Photo: Michelle Rowe.

The interaction between chef and diner is critical to omakase, or kappo, dining. Being able to gauge a diner’s likes and dislikes and tweak remaining courses accordingly; to pace the meal and quantities to individual preference heightens the experience for customer and chef.

It’s this intimacy between creator and customer that brings a smile to the face of chef Shinya Nakano when discussing his new restaurant, Mu Omakase, due to open in July in city centre Constitution Place – one of two new establishments in the precinct from Chairman Group, of Chairman and Yip and Lanterne Rooms fame. The group’s second outlet will be a chic bar called Cicada.

Over 18 courses, Mu Omakase will serve up a slice of Japanese tradition, with some unexpected Australian flourishes, to just 10 diners at a time. They’ll be seated at an L-shaped sushi-style bar offering front-row seats as Shinya and his two assistants slice, dice, shape, mould, sear and serve a procession of tastes over about two hours.

“I feel happy when I’m cooking and I can see that the customer is feeling happy,” says Shinya. “Omakase means ‘leave it up to the chef’, and it’s the same interaction as at a sushi counter. I can serve the food directly and see how the customer reacts. If I can see that he or she is getting full, I have to reduce the sushi rice amount. It’s this kind of process.”

Mu Omakase food preparation

Chef Shinya puts the finishing touches on ocean trout sashimi: Photo: Michelle Rowe.

Osaka-born Shinya is no stranger to multi-course Japanese dining or sushi making. Apart from his recent senior roles in the kitchen at celebrated Melbourne restaurants Kisume and Nobu, he trained for 10 years under a master sushi chef in Kyoto.

With such immersive training comes deeply ingrained culinary traditions, so I’m surprised at Shinya’s response when I ask if he plans a true omakase experience in Canberra.

“I used to think, I am Japanese, so I should serve very traditional Japanese cuisine because I learned in the traditional way. But some Australian customers [don’t want this] and I want them to be happy, so I am twisting it a little bit to try to fit local people’s taste,” he says.

What exactly are Australian diners looking for in a Japanese culinary experience, I ask him. Shinya raises his hand and traces a flat line through the air. Traditional Japanese cuisine, he explains, is subtle and consistent. Lighter tastes, no big flavour hits or surprises.

Mu Omakase sweets

A refreshing sorbet prepared by chef Shinya Nakano. Photo: Michelle Rowe.

Australians, he has found, like their food to pack a punch, he says, his hand shooting up in the air. We want bold seasonings, hits of heat, hidden surprises. After our talk, Shinya shows me what he means. He’s putting a few of his planned Mu Omakase dishes through their paces in the kitchen and they’re definitely a variation on a centuries-old theme.

A sushi of sake-poached WA scampi is brushed with fermented soy sauce and topped with finger lime and a single piece of salted cod roe (definitely some bold flavours there). Delicate slices of 36-degree sous vide Tasmanian ocean trout are brushed with sweet nikiri soy and topped with a mix of camembert cheese, edamame puree and macadamia nuts, crowned by a curry leaf (camembert on sashimi definitely fits into the hidden surprise category).

Sushi and sashimi will feature prominently in the multi-course meal at Mu Omakase. There will also be a soup prepared from Shinya’s mother’s recipe, wagyu flank steak paired with a fresh wasabi salsa, noodles, a hot fish dish, followed by a dessert of Okinawa-style Japanese doughnuts paired with persimmon jam.

“In Japan, you would never see jalapeno in sushi or sashimi,” says Shinya, adding that even capsicum will make an appearance in his Aussie-focused sushi repertoire.

Mu Omakase scallop sushi

A Hokkaido scallop sushi is liberally doused in shiso garlic butter and topped with chives and lime zest. Photo: Michelle Rowe.

Garlic, in particular, would horrify any self-respecting Japanese chef.

“Garlic has a very strong flavour and aroma. We think it kills all the subtlety [of a dish],” says the chef, seconds after placing a single piece of sushi – Hokkaido scallop brushed liberally with shiso garlic butter, and topped with chives and a bit of lime zest – in front of me. Like the previous morsels, it is delicious.

“Garlic is not used in Japanese sushi, but in Australia, it makes it fabulous,” says Shinya, with a wry smile. “My master would scold me, but people enjoy it, so why should we not use it?”

Mu Omakase is due to open in Constitution Place, 1 Constitution Avenue, Canberra, in July. For bookings or inquiries, email mu.omakase@gmail.com.


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10 Responses to Hot in the City: Leave it to the chef at Chairman Group’s exclusive new venue Mu Omakase
Kristin Butler Kristin Butler 5:02 pm 06 Jun 21

Jessica Leung!!! Date night.....

Jess Weber Jess Weber 12:17 pm 06 Jun 21

Clancy Morrison 18 courses 😧

Tam Tran Tam Tran 1:11 am 06 Jun 21

Celine Olivia Huong Thuy Nguyen. I feel I am too poor for this but Celine and you should go haha

Olivia McNamara Olivia McNamara 8:52 pm 05 Jun 21

Trea Murphy what I was telling you about yesterday

Nathan Kleinig Nathan Kleinig 5:06 pm 05 Jun 21

Kurt Neumann Alex Piris Daryl Hehir-Nielsen next dinner

Leonie Thomas Leonie Thomas 9:32 am 05 Jun 21

Dianne Blackwell add this one to the list too!

    Dianne Blackwell Dianne Blackwell 9:08 pm 05 Jun 21

    Leonie Thomas oh wow so many great Japanese restaurants

Nina Downes Nina Downes 1:01 pm 04 Jun 21

Lee Vereschildt - one for later this year :)

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