The spring sunshine streaming into Chiaki’s windows brings out the autumnal tones of its timber accents, contrasting the greys and concrete left behind by its much-missed predecessor, Congress. It’s even more apparent at night, when low-hanging pendant lights give the space a warm glow – fitting, as the venue name translates to “thousand autumns”.

“We wanted to bring a warmer vibe to the place, because before it was more cold with lots of stainless steel. We wanted to change the tone, but at the same time still maintain what it was before because locals loved it,” says Alicia Feng, who co-owns Chiaki alongside Mo Zhou and Kantaro Okada.

Feng runs Calere, the tiny Gertrude Street coffee shop connected to her partner Zhou’s boundary-pushing fine diner Gaea. Okada, meanwhile, is behind some of the city’s favourite Japanese eateries, including bento and gelato shop Hareruya Pantry, sushi and sake bar Leonie Upstairs, and cafes Le Bajo and 279. The trio first met years before Gaea opened, when Zhou ran a pop-up at 279. Now they’ve come together for a new spot that’s already drawing queues.

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“We want this to be very different to what we’re doing at the other places. It’s almost like a completely different direction for us,” Zhou says. “The idea first started as an izakaya, which is what we’re doing at night. We’re very lucky to have this spot and thought it’d be a shame to only open at night, so we came up with the idea of opening for ochazuke and coffee in the day.”

Ochazuke is a Japanese dish that sees a broth – traditionally made with tea – poured over a bowl of rice and toppings. Here they skip the tea and instead use a dashi-based broth with chicken stock, roasted sardines and prosciutto. Toppings include shredded chicken, grilled salmon, spicy cod roe and Wagyu beef tataki. For lunch, you can order the ochazuke set with sides of ceviche, karaage, potato salad, an onsen egg and pickles.

Coffee comes from Five Senses, with Feng also sourcing from guest roasters in China and Japan. The team imports Japanese tea such as sencha, hojicha and genmaicha, heroing seasonal leaves.

When the sun goes down, Chiaki transforms into an izakaya that’s also inspired by Australian wine bars. Zhou’s menu includes snacks and small plates such as savoury shiso leaf madeleines; oysters with mirin dressing; Wagyu tartare with tuna mayo; whipped salmon and cod roe on shokupan; and potato salad with jalapeno, prawn and potato crisps.

Bigger dishes include barramundi with mussels cooked in sake; pork scotch fillet with a mushroom dan dan sauce; and cauliflower with white miso and saltbush. There’s ochazuke, too, though the toppings served at dinner differ (currently there’s raw fish and squid).

Although beer and wine are available, most of Chiaki’s drinks list is taken up by sake. You can order them neat, with the menu moving from approachable light and fruity styles to more complex and full-bodied bottles for the seasoned sake drinker.

All the cocktails are sake-based too, like the Natsu with banana cognac, junmai sake, fig leaf cordial and shio koji caramel. The Oden is a take on the Bloody Mary, using strawberry sake, tomato water, cordial, Cocchi Americano and chilli tincture, while the Kasumi highball lets the flavours of Roman Junmai Ginjo sake shine through.

“We, as Asians, grew up with rice and that’s what sake’s made from. We wanted to make sure we fully explored rice, with ochazuke and sake,” Feng says. “It’s in our roots – when we drink sake, it feels familiar. The sweetness, the creaminess make us feel comfortable.”

49 Peel Street, Collingwood
0479 083 668

Tue 6:30am–3:30pm
Wed to Fri 6:30am–3:30pm, 5:30pm–10:30pm
Sat 7:30am–3:30pm, 5:30pm–10:30pm