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LiloTang: Canberra’s answer to Nobu?

Amanda Whitley

If there’s one name that’s synonymous with great Japanese cuisine, it’s ‘Nobu’. Seriously, just breathe the word and watch people swoon. Could ‘LiloTang‘ be the next?

This modern Japanese eatery, set to open tomorrow night, certainly has the pedigree. It’s the newest addition to the Chairman Group stable (Chairman & Yip, Lanterne Rooms, Malamay), and has brought the big guns to the kitchen in the form of Shunsuke Ota (ex sous chef at Nobu Melbourne). Oh yes, Canberra, you’re in for a treat.

Shunsuke Ota (ex sous chef at Nobu Melbourne) heads the kitchen at Lilotang.

Shunsuke Ota (ex sous chef at Nobu Melbourne) heads the kitchen at LiloTang.

LiloTang is a rich addition to Realm Precinct’s already-packed dining options, with its casual yet classy interiors sitting comfortably between the casual environments of Ostani and Maple+Clove, the more formal Konoba restaurant, and the one-hatted Malamay. It’s a large, light and airy space, filled with blond timber, pops of salmon pink and bright yellow, and lots of visual interest: a cobweb of ropes create a faux ceiling, timber screens with decorative cut outs slide this way and that to give instant privacy; the service corridor sits behind a sculptural wall, and the kitchen’s exterior is a gorgeous jigsaw of timber beams.

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The service corridor’s sculptural wall, rope ceilings and lots of blond timber.

It’s minimalist and elegant…but then comes the Manga. Scenes from Japanese comics are printed on plywood columns, adding a sense of playfulness to the space.

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Scenes from Manga comics are printed onto plywood and add a sense of playfulness.

This imagery is echoed on the placemates, and once the tables are set it’s a riot of colour, making you realise why LiloTang’s main colour palette is timber, timber and more timber. Anything more would be an assault on the senses.

But it works. According to mastermind, Josiah Li, a ‘tang’ is a dining hall, and LiloTang certainly looks like a communal eating space. It’s roomy with plenty of tables, just waiting to be filled with the cheerful cacophony of diners.

LiloTang's placemates add pop!

LiloTang’s placemates add pop!

But to the food. It’s elegant modern Japanese cuisine at its best – full of flavour and matched by an impressive Sake list. In the kitchen sits a Robata grill using Binchōtan charcoal, where chefs don industrial strength mitts to tend the 450 degree open coals.

The uncomplicated menu is divided into ‘small’, ‘salad’, ‘main’, ‘robata’ and ‘dessert’ and will appeal to a range of diners – those wanting to pop in for a quick after work drink and something light to eat, to those up for a long, sit down meal.

Our preview of the LiloTang menu is the latter – a nine-course journey, starting with Umami-jime Snapper w White Peach, Heirloom Tomato ($15.50). It’s a sublime beginning – fresher than fresh white fish (including some bonus Black Cod), sweet heirloom tomatoes and tart, firm peach.

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Umami-jime Snapper w White Peach, Heirloom Tomato

Next up  is Chargrilled Cold Eggplant w Creamy Sesame Sauce ($12.50), and it’s delicious. The smokiness of the eggplant combines with the distinctive taste of sesame, and is a flavour explosion, waking the tastebuds after the first course’s gentle introduction.

Chargrilled Cold Eggplant w Creamy Sesame Sauce

Chargrilled Cold Eggplant w Creamy Sesame Sauce

Third course – Sashimi Tuna and Avocado w Wasabi Okra Soy ($14.50) – comes to the table in a hollowed-out avocado half – and it’s delicious as it is pretty. Melt-in-your-mouth sashimi tuna and generous chunks of avocado come together in a dressing which is delightfully salty, with a subtle kick of wasabi and okra crunch.

Sashimi Tuna and Avocado w Wasabi Okra Soy

Sashimi Tuna and Avocado w Wasabi Okra Soy

Roast Umami Vegetables w Orange Miso in Orange Pot ($11.50) arrives next, to much ooh-ing and ah-ing. Chef Ota explains that he has cooked daikon, pumpkin and shiitake mushrooms separately in miso and combined in the orange skin ‘serving ware’, which adds not only theatre but some beautiful citrus flavours to the dish.

Roast Umami Vegetables w Orange Miso in Orange Pot

Roast Umami Vegetables w Orange Miso in Orange Pot

On to one of my favourite dishes of the night – Nagoya-Style Spicy Quail Kara-age w Sweet Sansho Soy ($18) – I could have eaten a whole plate of these. The meat is so succulent, moist and juicy, which Chef Ota reveals is due to the cooking technique: the quail is marinated overnight in milk, then coated and fried. The Sansho Soy is sweet and moreish and my mouth is beginning to water just writing this. Just yum.

Nagoya-Style Spicy Quail Kara-age w Sweet Sansho Soy

Nagoya-Style Spicy Quail Kara-age w Sweet Sansho Soy

The next dish is Chargrilled Baby Octopus and Rocket w Karashi Su Miso ($14.50) and is a lovely, light dish. The octopus is perfectly cooked – tender and smoky – and the cauliflower florets add a welcome crunch. The Karashi (a Japanese mustard made from crushed brassica juncea seeds and horseradish) is intriguing – slightly sweet with some sour notes – and refreshing to the palate.

Chargrilled Baby Octopus and Rocket w Karashi Su Miso

Chargrilled Baby Octopus and Rocket w Karashi Su Miso

Now it’s time to fire up the Robata- and the five dishes that follow don’t disappoint. LiloTang’s Chicken Thigh with Inherited Homemade Yakitori Sauce ($11) takes the humble chicken skewer to another level – full of flavour with a bit of kick.

Chicken Thigh with Inherited Homemade Yakitori Sauce

Chicken Thigh with Inherited Homemade Yakitori Sauce

Also served on skewers is the Pork Belly with Yuzu Kosho Miso ($9.50), but that’s where the similarities end. Tender pork belly is served with a sauce made from miso and Yuzu Kosho – a salt-cured condiment made with yuzu citrus peel and chilies. It’s fragrant and zesty and unlike anything I’ve tasted before.

Pork Belly with Yuzu Kosho Miso

Pork Belly with Yuzu Kosho Miso

Chicken Meat Ball with Creamy Egg ($13.50) comes to the table and I can’t wait to dive in. A perfectly slow-cooked egg accompanies juicy balls of chicken mince, allowing us to dip our meat into the yolk. Comfort food at its finest.

Chicken Meat Ball with Creamy Egg

Chicken Meat Ball with Creamy Egg

Vegetables also get the Robata treatment, Cauliflower w Dengaku ($7.50) and Miso Turnip w Sansho Salt ($8.50) maintain their firm texture and carry a smoky flavour from the grill. It’s a very different approach to vegetables than the typical ‘western’ preparation, and both are full of flavour.

Cauliflower w Dengaku Miso

Turnip w Sansho Salt and Cauliflower w Dengaku Miso

But wait, there’s more! Chargrilled Prawns with Shiso Amazu ($33.50) arrive and they’re seriously impressive – some of the largest prawns I’ve seen in some time. I love prawns that are prepared in the shell; there’s a real depth of flavour, and these are no exception. The prawn meat is sweet and luscious, with the sauce of Shiso (Japanese basil) and Amazu (Japanese sweet and sour sauce) adding sweet, peppery, herby flavours.

Chargrilled Prawn with Shiso Amazu

Chargrilled Prawn with Shiso Amazu

A dish of Chargrilled Wagyu Sirloin marinated in Japanese Herb Miso ($48) signals the last of our savoury dishes…and I’m beginning to think I can’t fit anything more in. But then it arrives, and suddenly my appetite perks up again. The Wagyu Sirloin is succulent, accompanied by a creamy herb miso sauce and lots of crunch from the accompaniments.

It’s important to note that, although our dishes came with sauces chosen by the kitchen, the LiloTang menu actually allows you to make your own combinations from the Robata grill. Team Chicken Thigh, Pork Belly or Wagyu Sirloin with a choice of Inherited Homemade Yakitori Sauce, Yuzu Kosho Miso, Home Made Pickled Apricot Sour Sauce or Wasabi Soy. Half the fun will be in mixing and matching!

Chargrilled Wagyu Sirloin marinated in Japanese Herb Miso

Chargrilled Wagyu Sirloin marinated in Japanese Herb Miso

The end is nigh. Will we have enough room for dessert? Time to get out that spare stomach as I’m served up Houji Tea Smooth Pudding with Sweet Potato ($12.50). Japanese desserts tend to be an acquired taste, and this is no exception… It’s more savoury than a typical ‘dessert’, but once the tastebuds adapt, it’s actually quite delicious – smooth with a touch of spice and a light finish to a deliciously long meal.

Sticky Mocchiri Tofu w Salted Cherry Blossom Sauce

Sticky Mocchiri Tofu w Salted Cherry Blossom Sauce

But I can’t resist trying Mr HerCanberra’s Sticky Mocchiri Tofu w Salted Cherry Blossom Sauce Maccha Green Tea Cheese Cake ($12.50), and I immediately have dessert envy. Although manager Po Yang Chia reveals that the kitchen wasn’t quite happy with the texture of tonight’s Tofu, it’s absolutely divine. Sweet and savoury and yum.

Maccha Green Tea Cheese Cake

Maccha Green Tea Cheese Cake

I’m done now. Even my dessert stomach has packed up and gone home. And I’ve probably had too much sake. But it’s been an impressive introduction to LiloTang, in all aspects – the food was inventive, sophisticated and flavourful; the service attentive and friendly (but not overly so); and the range ensuring there’s something for all tastes and budgets. Want to try it for yourself? You’re going to need to be quick… My recommendation? Book now.

World's largest bottle of sake (well, maybe).

World’s largest bottle of sake (well, maybe).

the essentials

What: LiloTang
Where: The Burbury Hotel, Burbury Close, Barton
When: Opens Thursday 15 January. Regular hours will be Lunch 12pm-2:30pm Tuesday-Friday and Dinner 5:30pm-10:30pm, Tuesday-Saturday.
Phone: 6173 2700
Web: www.lilotang.com.au

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Amanda Whitley

Amanda Whitley is the founder and director of HerCanberra. In her 'spare time', she instructs zumba, loves to cook (and eat), and wrangles two gorgeous little girls. She's done everything from present the tv news to operate a stop and go sign and is passionate about connecting Canberra women. More about the Author

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