Set in a 1887 heritage warehouse building on Chapel Street in Melbourne, the Morris Jones Restaurant & Cocktail Bar re-opened earlier this year with head chef Matthew Butcher‘s unique take on California-Japanese fusion cuisine sitting as the restaurant’s driving force; while a leafy, checkered refurb from AZBCreative, doubles down on the California-meets-Japan narrative.
And the fusion doesn’t stop at the food, the drinks ensuring a unique blend of flavours of their own; owner Hayden Burbank selecting everything from Kirin on tap, to a collection of Mezcals, Sakes, Tequilas, Japanese Whisky and of course, cocktails. Though it’s worth noting that they’re heavier on the tequilas than they are the whiskys.
If you do want to enjoy a cocktail with some of their Japanese Whisky, however, don’t look past the ginger and lemongrass infused “Nakatomi Old Fashioned” (pictured above), which was was literally smoking when it came out (not unlike Nakatomi Plaza)… covered at first and then uncovered to pour out over the table. The smoky flavour was overwhelming at first, but then balanced out for a really nice old fashioned flavour; the Nikka Pure Malt giving it a healthy kick, while sweet gelatin floats on a burnt swizzle stick.
As you may your way through the menu, you’ll see Californian references everywhere – and pretty much everything dish is designed to be shared, and made fresh. There are a wide variety of sushi options, which are made fresh at the bar – often with a blow-torch in hand, such as in the MJ Cali Roll, with Blue Swimmer Crab and torched Salmon. There’s also the Surf & Turf Roll with King Prawn, wagyu & unagi sauce.
Then there are the dumplings: there are Blue Swimmer Crab Dumplings, King Prawn & XO Dumplings and Leek & Tofu Dumplings for the vegetarians. But the real talking point of the menu is the fusion that brings together flavours inspired by California’s iconic In-n-Out Burger, with the traditional Japanese Dumpling, by way of the Cali Wagyu Dumplings.
The dumplings are lightly fried, and filled with beef and cheese, served over a bed of house made thousand island (with a nice dose of dill), slight slices of tomatoes and caramelised onions on the top. As someone who has eaten a lot of In-n-Out Burgers in his day, I have to say it genuinely tasted like the iconic burger – which was a bizarre thing to experience in dumpling form.
While the In-n-Out inspired dumplings are an experience not to be missed, the real high point of the menu is the Cherry Blossom Roasted 1/2 Duck, which comes out in a more Hong Kong style than Japanese, with half the duck chopped up and served in a sweet plum and soy sauce. If you want to really give this a Californian edge though, make sure you get this dish with the curly fries, which they themselves have been covered in kewpie mayo and unagi sauce.
Then for dessert, dishes like the Peanut Butter Mochi or the Mango and Burnt Lychee Sundae, ensure that the one-of-a-kind fusion experience lasts all the way to the final course. There’s a Messina next door if none of that takes your fancy, but believe me when you say you won’t leave this place hungry.
There’s just no other experience like Morris Jones in Melbourne. Hell, I don’t even think I’ve experienced it in California. Run, don’t walk, to this impressive fusion experience – and bring an appetite to match. And if you come in just for the sushi, I recommend sitting at the bar to enjoy the full experience. And if you can’t make up your mind on what you want (and that wouldn’t be a hard conclusion to reach), they’ll do a chef’s order for $75 a head, which will give you a little bit of everything.
Morris Jones Restaurant & Cocktail Bar
Headline photo provided by Morris Jones.