Disclosure: Alastair and I dined courtesy of Heirloom.

I think it’s fair to say that Heirloom has suffered from a confused identity. When they first opened about a year and a half ago, the cuisine was marketed as Japanese-French fusion. Fusion food, fairly or unfairly, seems to have a negative connotation, so to market yourself with that label is a brave (or naive) move.

Well, Heirloom realised that the fusion thing wasn’t really working, and at the beginning of this year they quietly rebranded themselves into a modern Japanese izakaya with a total change to their menu.

Alastair and I were invited along to a bloggers’ dinner last week to try out the food.

Located on Bourke Street on the ground floor of the Citadines Hotel, Heirloom is a vast space with concrete walls, lots of black and clean lines. Due to the hotel, they are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with breakfast mostly being a more traditional Western style affair. Lunch and dinner are more interesting, showcasing their take on Japanese izakaya food.

We started with sashimi – swordfish, salmon, tuna, and scallop topped with flying fish roe (entree – 9 slices $20, large – 15 slices $32). This all came with a dab of fresh wasabi (my heart cheers for fresh wasabi). It seemed pretty good, and I particularly liked the scallop and how it was all presented on a block of ice.

Sashimi was followed by kushiyaki – grilled skewers where we had both chicken and pork belly. Both were done nicely – the chicken was sweetish and charry in spots, and the pork belly was fatty and chewy. They both came with a bowl of chilli powder to dust over before eating.

Our next dish was the salmon yukke ($17) which included crispy potato, diced salmon, truffled cauliflower cream and topped with an onsen egg. It had great flavours and a mixture of textures with the diced fish and crunchy potato. I did find it on the sweet side though.

The wagyu tataki ($17) was plated beautifully – slices of just seared beef were drizzled with sesame puree and wasabi dressing, and presented with tiny cubes of sour yuzu jelly and micro herbs. The tataki had a very rich, meaty flavour.

Our next bite was the potato dango ($12) and it was fantastic – billed as a Japanese gnocchi, the cubes of potato were fried and served with a roquefort cheese and saikyo (sweet) miso cream. So, so good – very fluffy inside with a crisp shell. And I love blue cheese, so it’s no surprise that I was a fan of the sauce.

The pitoro gyoza ($7 for 3 pieces) were stuffed with pork jowl mince and prawn. It was sitting in an in-house chilli oil made with garlic, onions, dried prawns and miso. The gyoza were flavoursome, juicy and quite generous in size, though I was a bit saddened to find there was no spicy hit from the chilli oil, particularly since it had so much flavour from the other components.

In addition to all the small dishes, we tried several mains. The quinoa kingfish teriyaki ($29) came on top of sauteed mushrooms and parsnip puree. This was interesting, and I was surprised to find how much I liked the crispy quinoa crust.

The only dud of the night was the kaisen takikomi rice – it looked great when brought to the table but suffered from the cooking method. Inside the big casserole was a big layer of rice on the bottom, topped with crab, prawns, calamari and mussels. Unfortunately, the seafood was quite dry and the rice needed more flavour.

Better was the waygu ribs sukiyaki – a casserole with waygu ribs, tofu, chinese cabbage, mushrooms and an onsen egg, all cooked in a sweetish sukiyaki style sauce.

As well as a long sake list, Heirloom also has an interesting range of craft beers. Alastair tried a couple of beers from a Japanese brewery we had never seen before – Coedo. One of the beers was brewed from sweet potato, which gave it an interesting flavour.

Heirloom’s partner restaurant is the well known and long standing Shoya, with Heirloom headed by Executive Chef Ryo Kitahara in collaboration with Shoya’s Chef Shigeo Nonaka.

I never ate at Heirloom during their fusion phase, and I must admit that it never particularly appealed. In a way, it’s a shame it didn’t work out as Chef Ryo Kitahara’s background might lend itself well to the concept. Iron Chef fans will know of French Iron Chef Hiroyuki Sakai – well, Chef Ryo Kitahara is one of his proteges.

Oh well. I’m sure they’ll find more success as a straight Japanese restaurant. There’s definitely some good food there, though they really do need to work on that casserole.

View Off the spork in a larger map

131 Bourke St
Phone: 03 9639 1296
Web: heirloom.com.au

Heirloom on Urbanspoon