The advent of specialised Japanese eateries and restaurants over the past decade has given local eaters many reasons to cheer. In the mood for house-made udon? Go directly to Hifumiya. Gravity-defying soufflé pancakes? Meet you at the appropriately named Kumo (“cloud” in Japanese). Need some tempura, stat? Dining Akashi has you covered in the metro area while Miki’s Open Kitchen has Margaret River’s elegantly fried seafood game all locked up.
One expression of Japanese cooking that wasn’t so easy to find, however, was the Japanese breakfast: a nutritious, wondrous all-in of grilled fish, pickles, vegetables, soup and rice. Thankfully, the February opening of Hinata Cafe at the Fremantle Fibonacci Centre changed all that, with a Japanese breakfast/brunch plate one of the cornerstones of the cafe’s menu. Fellow Japanophiles will no doubt be thrilled, so long as they’re not expecting one of those high-end brekkies served at fancy ryokans (Japanese inns): Hinata isn’t that sort of place, nor is owner Tomoe Echo that kind of cook.
“I just want [Hinata] to be homestyle,” says Echo, who was born in Kochi prefecture on the Japanese island of Shikoku. “I like being homestyle. Number one, I’m not a trained chef, but I’m a shufu, which is the Japanese word for housewife. A shufu knows how to make a lot of good things. It’s not necessary to be a chef to cook this food.”
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While Echo might be underselling her qualifications somewhat – she spent three years working in a wagashi (Japanese confectionary) store in Kyoto – Hinata is a space awash in warmth and hospitality. Everything about it feels just right: the address at a community-minded centre on the outskirts of Fremantle; the sonic valium of the Japanese jazz soundtrack; the colourful knick-knacks and cheery smiles of staff that brighten up the predominantly concrete space. In short, this cosy 70-seater absolutely nails the kissaten (Japanese coffeeshop) brief. The menu, meanwhile, is stacked with Japanese household favourites.
So, the aforementioned Japanese brunch plate might come with tempura-fried beetroot, foil-baked fish, a little tumbler glass of mac and cheese bound in a miso sauce, and other flashbacks to that last Hokkaido ski holiday or Osaka homestay. A neat hillock of rice ties everything together and the make-up of the plate changes every fortnight with vegetarian and gluten-free options available. Curry is also a key component of the food offering as are various Japanese and non-Japanese soup options. On weekends, other Japanese classics such as oden (hotpot) and okonomiyaki (a savoury pancake) are available. The matcha cheesecake, hojicha (roasted green tea) crème caramels and other sweets that lay in ambush in the display cabinet are available at all times.
Although Hinata opened in February, Echo has been running Hinata as a pop-up for more than a decade. Her first hit-out was in 2011 at Bibra Lake next to her son’s Steiner school. (She also made sushi and other Japanese snacks at school functions and also taught homestyle cooking classes at TAFE.) Hinata Cafe was also a weekend pop-up at Cocolico, the Fremantle sandwich shop and cafe Echo took over in 2018. Echo’s life journey from rebellious high-school student to 40-something Japanese cafe owner – with a pitstop as an occupational therapist in the aged care sector – might have been atypical, but she’s grateful for the opportunity to share her culture with others as well as give Hinata a home of its own.
“Hinata means ‘a sunny spot’ in Japanese and that’s what this stands for,” says Echo. “This is a place for anyone that’s been touched by the Japanese kind heart. I hope this sort of nostalgic food brings back those memories for people.”
19 Blinco Street, Fremantle
Wed to Sun 9am–5pm