Ototo is Japanese for “younger brother”, which makes it a fitting name for the new izakaya-style bar in the basement of Akaiito, a Japanese fine diner with an omakase-style offering on Flinders Lane. Previously it was an extension of the upstairs space – known as Akaiito Underground – but it has reopened with a refreshed menu of Asian-inspired snacks and cocktails.
“We wanted to offer a more relaxed, casual environment with a new name and a new food concept,” says the team’s executive chef, Winston Zhang.
Here, share plates are king – with a menu that is mostly Japanese but meanders through multiple cuisines, including Chinese, Korean, Malaysian and beyond. Follow the luminous red-thread installation at the upstairs restaurant into the moody basement bar, where you can expect appetisers such as Sydney rock oysters served with ponzu and ikura (salmon roe), crispy mantou (Chinese buns), pork-and-prawn “cigars” with the optional add-on of sea urchin, and Hervey Bay scallops with seaweed butter.
Larger share plates start from $18 and include deluxe sashimi platters, Korean-style steak tartare with cured egg yolk, masala lamb ribs and sambal king prawns. Or get the full experience by going for the $68-a-head chef’s selection.
Drinks-wise, “The focus will be on savoury and umami-style cocktails,” says consultant George Leung. “A lot of places focus on sweet drinks, but they don’t always complement the food.” That isn’t the case here; try the signature Japanese-inspired Nori Martini or a sake-based spritz with butter-fat washed gin that’s made in-house.
The bar also has a focus on sustainability, using Ecospirits, a low-carbon, low-waste spirits-distribution service. Plus, fruit pulp is made into puree, while skins and cores are ground to create flavoured syrups. Any leftover ingredients are recycled back to the kitchen and implemented into the cooking wherever possible.
The space’s stylish fit-out hasn’t changed dramatically with the rebrand, and still features exposed bluestone walls, a black-stone-topped bar and space for up to 60 people. But new high tables and extra bar seating make it feel more laidback. Historical elements of the heritage-listed building can also be seen through its original ceiling beams, restored wooden columns and heritage iron grating.
Ototo Underground 349-351 Flinders Lane, Melbourne (03) 9620 1343
Hours: Tue to Sun 5pm–1am