Otogo began when owner-chef Mitsuhiro Yashio, also known for Yachiyo Japanese Bistro in Darlinghurst, saw his teenage daughter coming home with fast food. Arriving home well after dark following extracurricular activities, she usually had no choice but to stop by an affordable, convenient and speedy eatery. “What else is there?” was always her line.

Unlike Japan, where there are ample options for healthy, convenient takeaway, Yashio knew this was not quite the case in Australia just yet.

“We wanted to create a place where, as parents, we would be happy to feed our children. And, of course, it had to be affordable,” Yashio tells Broadsheet.

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His newly opened Ultimo eatery, Otogo, specialises in onigiri (rice balls) and soba noodles, fusing health, convenience and affordability. With onigiri starting from $3.30, soba from $10, and attractive set menus for less than $20 ($17 gets you two onigiri, a drink and a serving of soba noodles), Otogo is a haven for food enthusiasts during a cost-of-living crisis.

Despite being a seasoned chef, who was trained in Kyoto’s Michelin-starred Akai, Yashio has invested heavily in cutting-edge technology to offer dishes at an affordable price.

“This is the only way we can maintain affordability,” he says. “But this does not mean we compromise on the quality or authenticity.”

While Otogo’s hardworking onigiri machine crafts one perfect onigiri every six seconds, it is Yashio and his team in the kitchen making the fillings using fresh ingredients, such as miso-grilled salmon, tuna kewpie mayo, spicy pork, chicken karaage, edamame and prawn tempura. “We do not use canned tuna,” says Yashio. “We steam the yellowfin tuna and marinate them in our unique, flavourful sauce.”

You might imagine that a machine making onigiri would use a press-mould method, but Otogo’s machine mimics the soft handwrapping motion of a human. The machine was developed using AI technology, collecting data from more than 1000 people making onigiri in Japan. “So it's like human-made, or even better,” says Yashio.

Otogo imports its rice – Haenuki, a premium variety known for its exceptional flavour, texture and ability to maintain softness – from Yamagata prefecture in Japan. On the other hand, Australia’s finest buckwheat flour is used to make fresh soba noodles every morning on-site. Otogo uses 95 per cent buckwheat flour to maximise its health benefits and to keep in line with tradition. Because of this high content, the noodles are more delicate than most. “Soba is Japan's superfood,” says Yoshio. “It’s very low in calories and high in protein. I hope for more Australians to enjoy this.”

The soup is Kansai-style, a light, elegant, kelp-based broth, with topping choices such as Kyoto duck, tempura or spicy pork to choose from.

If you want to add something a little heavier to your meal, the Maryland chicken karaage is a must-try. Cooked using a state-of-the-art pressure fryer, the chicken is incredibly juicy on the inside and crispy on the outside. For dessert there’s house-made vanilla and Calpico (a Japanese soft drink) soft serve.

All orders are entered by the customer at a touch-screen self-service kiosk, like at a fast-food outlet, but the meal, served in person, and the zen decor are far from fast-food-like. The space will evolve as Yashio adds to the menu and extends trading hours, so people can pop by at odd times and still enjoy speedy but healthy meals.

1/56 Bay Street, Ultimo
0434 236 204

Daily 8am–8pm