Bahar is a freelance writer and a wanderer who is determined to uncover all the secrets of Melbourne and share them the only way she knows how, through writing.
Published June 26th 2012
I heard about Yu-U (pronounced 'you') from a friend, whose friends had taken her there a while ago who had read about it on a blog of someone who had accidentally discovered it one day. The circle goes on and this notoriously word-of-mouth restaurant is truly one of Melbourne's best kept secrets, or so I thought. A phone call to make dinner reservations on a weekday proved me wrong and showed me the popularity of this supposedly unknown restaurant. The earliest day I could get reservations for was in 2 weeks. The lesson here is: call way ahead of time.
When the two week wait came close to an end, I was filled with high expectations of the service, the food, the sake and the atmosphere, which surely could not be fulfilled. By the end of the night I was, again, proven wrong.
With no website, no signage outside or details other than its phone number and address, Yu-U is an advertisement-shy restaurant and taking pictures is not allowed, neither the attempt of trying to document anything other than the door.
As I walked behind a group of Japanese businessmen who were greeted by a polite "Konichiwa" and shown to a private room, I started marvelling at the interior décor; minimalistic yet full of character. The main seating is a U-shaped communal table, set around the interactive teppanyaki kitchen; there are also two other tables for larger groups and two private rooms. With its limited seating the restaurant hardly seats 28, explaining the difficulty of getting a reservation. The clever arrangement of the seating also adds spaciousness to this small, dim, underground restaurant.
Our waitress was incredibly attentive throughout the entire night, from the moment she showed us to our seats and took our coats and as she suggested us "sake-novices" the one perfectly suited to our Western palates and walked us through the menu, explaining each item and answering our many questions.
The food itself certainly did justice to the reviews I had been religiously reading: without a doubt the best Japanese I've had in Melbourne. However be warned that while the portions are on the smaller side, the prices can be quite high especially considering how many different dishes you may end up ordering. It is a good idea not to order personal dishes but mix and match and order to share. For dinner, there is a minimum spend of $30 per person, which is easily reached.
After savouring the scrumptious Wagyu beef and many other traditional Japanese dishes with a modern twist, I must say that the desserts didn't live up to the high standards other menu items had set. It might be best to leave dessert for another place and enjoy another glass of sake as your magical Japanese night comes to an end.
What transformed Yu-u from one of the many hidden gems of Melbourne laneways to an absolutely best in town was the music. Beyond the relaxed yet traditional atmosphere, the delicious food, excellent service and drinks; the music was a pleasant surprise which which complemented our dining experience and the ambiance of the restaurant perfectly. I felt as if I was in a Japanese oasis as the smooth instrumental jazz filled my ears.
I haven't been to Yu-U for years, good to hear it's still going. I went for lunch, which used to be a set menu, not sure if it still is? Don't recall the price but I recall it being good value for money.