Saké Flinders Lane:
121 Flinders Lane, Melbourne VIC
1300 670 910 or www.sakerestaurant.com.au
Story: Christopher Holder
Photos: Nicole England
Saké is a part of a what is now a huge hospitality juggernaut.
Urban Purveyor Group may have started as John Szangolies’ lovechild in The Rocks but is now big business. The group was last year bought by private equity powerhouse, Quadrant Private Equity; turns over $200m per annum; and is quite possibly the biggest restaurant group in Australia.
There are now five Sakés in Australia. Saké Flinders Lane is the second in Melbourne (the other is at Hamer Hall), while there are two in Sydney and a Brisbane branch.
Saké can be described as ‘modern Japanese’, that much is obvious, but from there it’s harder to categorise. The reason for this is as surprising as it is delightful: each outlet runs as a semi-autonomous business.
When Saké Flinders Lane Executive chef Jean Paul Lourdes was head hunted from his latest gig in Miami, he immediately set about making the menu his own. Jean Paul is one qualified gent, he’s not signing on to be head cook, whipping up by-the-numbers Saké staples.
Saying that, there are Saké Signature dishes. But these dishes aren’t etched into the menu by Urban Purveyor’s top brass like the 10 Commandments, they’re decided on by a Saké executive chef high council. I love the thought of these creative, super-competitive über-chefs coming together to decide which dishes should be inducted into the Signature hall of fame.
Chatting to Saké’s National Brand General Manager, Christian Price, I was starting to get a sense of how Saké maintains its slightly ‘dangerous’ edge despite the strictures of being (potentially) just another cog in a much bigger corporate machine, namely: give managers, chefs and bar managers some license; use their local knowledge; use their personal flair.
GENTLY DOWN THE LANE
Saké Flinders Lane resides in one of the most prized restaurant leaseholds in Melbourne. Flinders Lane represents the epicentre of cool dining. Chin Chin is next door… nuff said. Flinders Lane manages to combine the essence of late-night ‘cool Melbourne’ and retain proximity to an endless resource of long-lunch suits.
Saké’s site is ideal. The main floor accommodates restaurant dining. Downstairs is a generously proportioned lounge bar where a DJ will spin smooth cuts well into the night while carousers nibble on casual dining options and sip on a lemongrass-infused umeshu cocktail (or something equally interesting). Downstairs also provides a private dining option for 20, and an exceptional outdoor dining space (that receives full menu privileges from upstairs). In other words, the space ticks all the boxes.
Woody P (see last issue) only recently occupied the site, but had one of those sad/inexplicable ‘dead on arrival’ hospitality disasters. Apparently Woody P left the building like the rapture. It was as if staff had downed tools mid shift, mid sitting, mid sentence. Very little was extracted or pawned.
Urban Purveyor Group jumped all over it — ‘let’s see… Flinders Lane, late-night liquor license…?’ — and called in the Urban Purveyor Group’s fitout swat team.
FITOUT SWAT TEAM
The UPG fitout team never stops moving. After Saké Flinders Lane they were back up to Sydney, then as you read this they’re probably working on the old Comme site in Melbourne CBD.
It means they’re a well oiled machine and not phased when no-compromise deadlines loom like a Marco Pierre White saucepan to the scone.
Naturally the restaurant was completed in time for the launch and with the help of some Melissa Collison Interior Design, looks amazing.