We’ve just had a spin around the Belconnen Arts Centre on the foreshore at Lake Ginninderra and are getting ready for lunch at a new restaurant just a few metres away on Emu Bank.
The restaurant has given us instructions to find the place and it’s lucky they have. There’s little sign of it from the less-than-glamorous street-frontage of The Boardwalk building in which it’s located and we’d have walked right past it otherwise.
But we persevere past the construction fencing, through the dingy foyer and out the sliding glass doors at the back, and we’re glad we made the effort.
Having opened in June, Hachiko bills itself as a restaurant specialising in ‘Western Japanese Fusion’ food, and while the word ‘fusion’ often strikes fear into my heart, first glance at the menu immediately calms the nerves.
Many Japanese street food staples are here, including the popular steamed egg custard, chawanmushi; okonomiyaki – that moreish savoury pancake; gyoza dumplings; tempura; and takoyaki octopus balls. There’s nothing so ‘out there’ as to induce a culinary identity crisis, rather subtle signs of a coming together of cultures such as a duck breast taco with slices of jalapeno pepper and pickled onion, or the blue swimmer crab sprinkled on the custard.
Vincent Yu, a young Guangzhou-born chef who spent three years honing his craft at Raku in the city before joining Hachiko, is the man behind the menu.
“I studied Western food but have mainly worked in Japanese restaurants, so this is the food I like to cook,” he says. The current menu is the starting point, he says, “but we will keep improving and changing, rotating dishes”.
“Eventually, I want to do sushi as well.”
Vincent was recruited by restaurant owner Vanessa Ji, a family friend who admired his work ethic and skill in the kitchen.
“I’ve known Vincent a long time. He’s like a brother to me. He is a very good Japanese chef and brings good restaurant experience. We work together well.”
Vanessa, who has owned the Coffee Club cafe in Fyshwick’s Canberra Outlet Centre for eight years, was looking for an opportunity to branch out.
She didn’t want to take on anything too big given the vagaries of COVID-19, but came across the site formerly occupied by the Morrissey on the Boardwalk cafe and knew she’d found what she needed. Alongside Vincent, Vanessa has brought into the venture front-of-house Abhi Pawar, who has worked with her for nearly four years in Fyshwick.
Hachiko’s compact space with floor-to-ceiling windows offering views of Lake Ginninderra is bright and inviting. Light-wood tables and chairs sit atop a herringbone floor, working in harmony with grey bench seating that matches the hues on the wall. Feature pendant lights hang from the ceiling, and a wooden benchtop runs the length of the windows allowing for bar-style dining.
We’ve chosen one of the tables with bench seating. Alongside us is a family of seven celebrating a birthday, tucking into the likes of grilled Angus beef don (which comes with sous vide egg, sweet soy sauce, pickled onions, nori and lettuce), dengaku eggplant and miso soup.
They’ve also opted for a grilled prawn ochazuke which comes with prawn infused Napoli sauce, rice, wasabi, shiso furikake seasoning and miso cream. Vincent says it’s been the most popular dish among diners so far.
I’ve no idea what to choose. Perhaps sensing my dilemma, Vincent offers to pull together smaller tastings of several dishes – something he plans to introduce as a menu option soon. We’re grateful for the opportunity and kick off with two Pacific oysters topped with a slice of pickled water chestnut and lime. They are exquisite – the oysters plump and tasty, the pickled chestnut and Japanese vinegar topping the perfect accompaniment.
Next up are two delicate slices of okonomiyaki with Japanese barbecue sauce and mayonnaise, scattered with wafer-thin bonito slices. In the interests of ‘research’, I have eaten more than my fair share of these delicious Japanese pancakes over the years and can vouch for Vincent’s as among the best I’ve tried.
Duck breast taco is another standout. The jalapeno pickles deliver some welcome heat alongside a delicious homemade chilli hoisin sauce. Vincent says nearly all of the sauces are made in-house, including a chimichurri that complements his delicious wagyu beef gyoza and a fabulous ume mandarin sauce that lifts to new heights a perfectly cooked grilled duck breast served with a mixed salad.
Hachiko’s tempura is also great – eggplant, zucchini, prawns and oysters coated in a crisp batter and served with nori salt, coriander ponzu and shichimi pepper dips. The oyster version is the pick of the bunch.
As we’re tucking into our dessert plate – yuzu lime tart served with a scoop of matcha ice cream and another scoop of sakura (cherry blossom) flavour – Vanessa tells us that she hopes the talented Vincent will eventually run the place himself while she continues to tend to the loyal following she has built in Fyshwick.
I ask her how she came up with the name Hachiko, wondering if it had anything to do with the Japanese film Hachiko Monogatari, about a loyal Akita dog that never got over the loss of its master (the remake starring Richard Gere had me blubbering like a baby).
It turns out that’s exactly where the name came from.
“The film is about loyalty and a real bond,” she says, referencing the small team she has assembled at Hachiko.
“What we want is to build a strong bond with our customers, too, to earn their loyalty for the long term. That’s why we thought the name was a good one to choose.”
Hachiko is at 8/114 Emu Bank, Belconnen. It is open 7 days from 5:00 pm to 9:30 pm.