Japanese dishes are all about simple ingredients and purity of flavour – no wonder Tokyo has more Michelin stars than any other city. In Canberra, there’s a small but robust selection of topnotch restaurants that explore the many facets of Japan’s food scene.
Don’t be fooled by the casual exterior. This downtown joint is all class when it comes to Japanese cuisine. City workers step off busy East Row for a lunchtime sushi fix and late-night revellers check in for a fiery volcano roll – an explosion of salmon, wasabi, chilli sauce and orange caviar – damped down with a cooling Asahi. Rub shoulders at the sushi bar while watching the chefs prepare prawn-and-avocado dragon rolls, soft-as-butter fried eggplant and pan-fried marbled Wagyu in teriyaki sauce. Can’t decide? Try one of the strikingly varied combo boxes. For $15, upgrade the $34 Makunouchi to hook a liberal serve of sashimi – salmon, flying fish, cuttlefish, scallops and sea urchin pâté. Or step up to an ATM (Assorted Tremendous Meal) for $56.50 or This Is What I’m Talkin’ ’Bout ($62).
41 East Row, Canberra; (02) 6257 2334
Canberra’s Japanophiles throng here to sample the robata skewers (chicken yakitori and pork belly with yuzu miso), just one of the signature dishes that have made Lilotang the perfect addition to the Chairman Group’s troika of fine Asian dining. (When you’re not in the mood for Japanese food, head to its longstanding Cantonese restaurant, Chairman & Yip, or the equally popular Lanterne Rooms for Nyonya cuisine.) Playful Manga memes and striking black and red furniture set against cool blond wood make Lilotang the ideal setting for working your way through the $60 six-course business lunch, which screams umami and kicks off with a saké-steamed oyster with beef tataki and lime ponzu. Linger longer in the evening over chargrilled Scotch fillet with spicy plum miso or chicken thighs marinated in saké lees with herb salad and sesame dressing.
Burbury Hotel, 1 Burbury Close, Barton; (02) 6273 1424
Image: Rebecca Doyle
Expect to find a constant line out the door at Mee’s Sushi, both at the original Manuka eatery and at the second store on the Australian National University campus. Sushi rolls – for which Mee’s is best known – are generously sized and brimming with fillings. There are the usual suspects, such as tuna, salmon and chicken teriyaki, but don’t pass up the people’s favourite: chicken schnitzel with lettuce and homemade mayonnaise.
Shop 4, 1-15 Flinders Way, Manuka; (02) 6295 7442
Union Building, Australian National University, Canberra; (02) 6174 1060
Nestled above Lonsdale Street in Braddon in the stylish Ori building, Chaki Chaki is a new – and welcome – addition to the Japanese dining scene in Canberra. The spacious restaurant features polished-concrete floors and an open kitchen surrounded by timber panelling. For a real feast, opt for one of the two degustation menus on offer. Alternatively, cast your eyes over the refined à la carte options, including classics such as sashimi, tempura, ramen and katsu, plus the standout grilled miso cod. In the mood for a drink? Chaki Chaki has an extensive range of saké and Japanese whisky.
First floor, Ori, 30 Lonsdale Street, Braddon; (02) 6230 0332
Top image: Lilotang/Rebecca Doyle