Japan’s konbini convenience stores are the stuff of legend, offering a kaleidoscopic array of alcohol, cosmetics and, of course, food – 24 hours a day. And they’re what inspired Japanese-Australian brothers Reiji and Kent Honour to open Hibiki Future, next door to Hibiki, Reiji’s Japanese-influenced cafe in Camberwell. Here, find fluffy shokupan (Japanese milk bread), as well as bento boxes, onigirazu (a type of rice ball shaped like a sandwich or burrito) and katsu sandos – prepped fresh daily. They’re “closely modelled” on what you’d find at a Japanese 7-Eleven or Lawson, another popular chain. Also shop imported Japanese groceries like tea, pickled ginger, bonito flakes, chilli oil, miso and more.
Shingo Tochimoto worked in his grandfather’s sushi restaurant in Tokyo for more than 10 years. Now, with his partner Rena, he’s bringing what he learned to a real-deal Japanese stall in Brunswick Market. Shingo does each day’s prep, slicing and dicing with the kind of precision that only comes with years of practice. “We wanted to take the traditional Japanese food we enjoy eating and make it affordable,” he tells Broadsheet. At Tochi Deli, the friendly couple serves all sorts of ocean-fresh nigiri and sushi, plus miso-salmon onigiri, agedashi tofu donburi and warming curry udon. Rena writes the menus out by hand and sculpts and paints 3D models of each dish for display.
There are only six seats and three dishes at Uminono, a tiny sushi-bar-within-a-cafe by classically trained French chef Arnaud Laidebeur. The main event? Chirashi: a variety of sashimi – Ora King salmon, Hiramasa kingfish and more – scattered over lightly sweetened sushi rice seasoned with salt and vinegar. But it’s more than just a plate of food for Laidebeur; the way he talks about each ingredient shows his reverence for the fish and produce. And as for its location, inside Prahran’s St Edmonds? “It’s bizarre at first, sitting at a sushi bar surrounded by other diners sipping coffee and enjoying their brunches,” Broadsheet editor Chynna Santos wrote. “But when the fish comes out and the team starts carefully slicing each one to order, the cafe fades into the background.”
At new Japanese-inspired skewer bar Robata, the San Telmo team has departed from its typical Latin American flavours to focus on kushiyaki (skewers of grilled meat and veg) cooked over traditional binchotan (a neutral charcoal used specifically for yakitori). Take a seat at the bar to watch all the flame-grilling action, as well as masterful slicing by an in-house sashimi chef. Yakitori (chicken skewers) are the protein of choice – they come as thighs, meatballs or hearts, from $6. There are also a few other kushiyaki, such as Wagyu, pork belly and Skull Island prawns. Plus, an impressive sake collection and a fit-out straight from the streets of Tokyo.
In early 2020, beloved Sydney Road pub The Penny Black closed. But it was saved from permanent closure thanks to the group behind Welcome to Brunswick and Thornbury, which reimagined it as Penny’s. And it now bears Japanese influences. The focus is on beer-friendly food that’s easy to share. Flame-licked yakitori come two at a time, with accompaniments such as mushroom and onion glazed in treacle molasses made from slow-cooked vegetable offcuts, soy and brown sugar. For something larger, there’s the pork rib-eye katsu. There’s no rudimentary parma here, and this version might be even better: it’s panko-crumbed and crisscrossed with kewpie and katsu sauce. You can also catch live music in the bandroom, and there’s a fit-out inspired by ’70s-era Japanese rock’n’roll.
This is Chris Lucas’s take on Tokyo, in Melbourne – with the volume turned up. With a neon-lit frontage, it’s right beside Lucas Restaurants’ most recent opening, Society, in the 80 Collins precinct. And yet, it’s a world away. Here, chef Daniel Wilson (from the now-closed Huxtable and casual offshoot Huxtaburger) serves a modern, Japanese-inspired menu that’s all about fire power. Start with the karubi dog, a take on a classic hotdog that swaps the snag for a super juicy, marbled cut of beef; move onto a big bowl of smoked-eel udon, which is Wilson’s playful riff on carbonara; then go all-out with the whole miso-glazed Bannockburn chicken, with a spread of sides. And then there’s the perfect meal-ender: the Yaki-kult ice-cream sandwich – you’ll want to snap a photo before you bite into it.
Additional reporting by Nick Connellan, Scott Renton, Quincy Malesovas, Evan Jones and Sofia Levin.