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From the moment Muneki Song first
opened Nine Fine Food in North-
bridge in 2003, he has been making
foodie hearts flutter with his inspired,
radical take on modern Japanese
cuisine. Since then he s notched up no fewer than
two Restaurant and Catering Awards for Excellence
and a swag of media accolades and inclusions on
best restaurant lists.
Gourmet Traveller Australian Restaurant Guide
describes his unique blend of European and
Japanese flavours as "a joyous mix that doesn t
succumb to the excesses of fusion". Now a major
refit, together with additional staff and seating,
has helped turn his funky upbeat restaurant into a
Perth culinary institution. Even early in the week
you ll find Nine Fine Food packed with diners,
many of whom are devoted regulars. And a single
glance at any of Muneki s dishes will tell you why,
for this is food that seduces the eye long before its
subtle flavours tantalize the taste buds.
It s a culinary aesthetic that has many of the
restaurant s devotees calling it Perth s answer to
Tetsuya s. Not that you ll find Muneki making
such claims. In fact, the 43-year-old Kyoto-born
chef has not yet managed so much as a visit to the
iconic Sydney restaurant. His unique style is all his
own, and owes as much to his insatiable curiosity
and adventurous spirit as to his Japanese heritage.
It can also be felt in his recent and extensive
redesign of the interior of Nine Fine Food, where
he s used a unique blend of Asian and European
elements to create a mood that is at once contem-
porary and comfortable, yet distinctly Japanese.
Who else, do you think, could deploy a mix of
greys and beiges, of jacquards and velvets, rattan
chairs and even an Indian purdah window to such
chic effect? And let s not forget intimacy and pri-
vacy, which he s secured for his customers by the
addition of screens and banquettes. "We wanted to
create cool and sexy casual Japanese dining," says
Muneki, and dining in this 45-seater is certainly
both intimate and very, very comfortable.
You might also notice that Muneki has used
an ancient Buddhist symbol as a recurring motif
on Nine Fine Food s windows, doors and menus.
It s a family emblem that came originally with
his grandfather from Korea: although Muneki s
parents were born in Japan, he grew up with his
grandmother who cooked only Korean food.
Indeed Muneki still uses some Korean ingredients
in his Japanese dishes, "especially miso and soy
sauce and even kombu", but insists he can t speak
Korean and doesn t really know much about tradi-
tional Korean food.
"I know the things I can use," he admits. "It s
automatic. There s a Japanese kombu as well, but
I substitute it sometimes. I also blend Japanese
miso and Korean miso together to make some-
Despite enjoying cooking while growing up,
Muneki had no serious thoughts of becoming a
chef. Instead he studied law in Japan while on a
university sports scholarship. "I was mainly playing
basketball, rather than studying," he laughs.
He first came to Perth in 1990, as an overseas
student studying English. He then moved to
New South Wales to train to become a helicopter
pilot, before heading off to San Francisco where
he worked in the antiques business for two years.
Finally he moved back to Perth in 1995. "I love
Perth," he says, "it s a great place to be, especially
now that I have two small daughters and a son."
And it was in Perth that his culinary adventures
began, at Banzai Sushi & Noodle Bar in Leeder-
ville. There he first met local restaurateur Brett
Carboni, who went on to found Tsunami in Mos-
man Park. "Neither of us had much experience so
every day was an education during that time. We
bought lots of videotapes, CDs and magazines,
and we were always checking out new things,
new places," Muneki says.
Moving with Brett to Tsunami, his self-edu-
cation continued. "Brett helped me a lot and we
remain friends to this day," he says, adding that
it was at Tsunami that his real passion for food
began to kick in.
"I didn t have a basic knowledge when I started,
and I didn t have a traditional way of thinking, and
that helped me to grow and to develop something
new very easily. I didn t think that, This must be
this way, I just thought, If were going to use these
ingredients let s try maybe in different ways . And
customers liked that."
Customers liked it so much that they would
come into the kitchen, particularly after functions,
and tell him how much they enjoyed their meals.
He recalls vividly the sudden realisation that he
could make people happy with his food when,
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