15 February 2021

Hot in the City – Tokyo Canteen, Kingston

| Michelle Rowe
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Panko chicken

Tokyo Canteen’s Panko chicken sando comes with a crunchy side serve of fried lotus chips. Photo: Michelle Rowe.

They say never go shopping on an empty stomach, and for very good reason. Venture into the new Supabarn Farmers Market in the heart of Kingston and you risk emptying your bank account before you’ve moved past the cheese section, a collection so expansive you need a sat nav to find your way around it.

I’ve gone out far too many times to buy a litre of milk and come home instead with a dozen doughnuts, a family-sized block of Cadbury’s and a bag of Allen’s Retro Party Mix, all because I wasn’t sensible enough to have a sandwich before I left.

Stepping off the escalator that has delivered us from the underground car park into the new mixed-use precinct on the corner of Eyre and Jardine streets, we walk purposefully past Supabarn to find somewhere for breakfast before contemplating the grocery shopping.

Dean Han

Dean Han has recently added Tokyo Canteen to his dining portfolio. Photo: Michelle Rowe.

We don’t need to go far. Eyre Street Market has injected a new lease of life into one of Canberra’s oldest suburbs in recent months, with cafes, restaurants, health and retail stores populating the commercial space at the base of the Atria apartment complex opposite Green Square.

Key among the lineup are new outlets of the excellent Wildflour and Lava cafes. There’s a nail spa and a barber, a gift store and a second outlet of the fragrant V+IN+E florist, which began life in the Fyshwick Fresh Food Markets.

Today’s focus, though, is the handful of restaurants that run the gamut of Vietnamese, Mexican and Japanese food.

Never ones to pass up a Japanese breakfast, we make a beeline for Tokyo Canteen. The menu is a hit list of Japanese favourites, plus some intriguing hybrids. There’s a traditional okonomiyaki pancake filled with mushroom, cabbage, Japanese barbecue sauce and bonito flakes, topped with a fried egg, as well as barbecue eel with greens, house pickles, barbecue sauce, rice, cured egg and house-made miso soup.

Teishoku agedashi tofu

The Teishoku agedashi tofu is served with side dishes, in traditional Japanese set menu style. Photo: Michelle Rowe.

Ginza honey toast sees caramelised shokupan (Japanese milk bread) topped with matcha mascarpone, freeze-dried berries, matcha sticks, fruit and black sesame ice cream. And Tokyo Canteen’s Avo “Mame” Toast with yuzu-marinated crushed avo and edamame, matcha dust, crispy nori and poached egg leaves that much-mocked Aussie staple smashed avo toast for dust.

Tokyo Canteen is the creation of Korean-born Dean Han, and it’s little wonder he’s crafted a menu that can induce an anxiety attack among the indecisive.

Dean was with the Chairman Group for five years, including roles as head chef at Lanterne Rooms in Campbell and senior chef at Lilo Tang in Barton. He also ran the kitchen at Braddon’s Tipsy Bull for two years before branching out on his own, opening two food stalls at Fyshwick markets in 2018 – Japanese-inspired Umami and Chinese dumpling vendor Ma Ma Dumplings.

While Fyshwick’s Umami is very much a takeaway affair, with snacks including sushi tacos, ramen and poke bowls on high rotation, newer sibling Tokyo Canteen offers diners a chance to linger longer.

The dining room

Dine in Tokyo Canteen’s compact dining room or sit outdoors in the sun. Photo: Michelle Rowe.

The crew in the tiny open kitchen, led by head chef Ian Lim who has done stints at The Boat House and Aubergine, as well as Kingston’s Penny University, is a streamlined production line, delivering a variety of dishes to patrons at the five or so small indoor tables and the wooden picnic tables housing larger groups outside.

Dean says his vision for Tokyo Canteen was to introduce diners to traditional Japanese dishes, but with a twist – offering just enough familiarity to make guests feel comfortable, but enough of a flourish to bring innovative new dining options to Canberra’s breakfast and lunch scene.

“Every shopping centre in Canberra has a sushi shop – but they’re not selling what I sell. We follow traditional recipes from Japan and China [at Ma Ma Dumplings] but we want to show diners something different, not the same things they will see everywhere else,” Dean says.

I love the look of the udon carbonara, with a soy cured egg yolk crowning a plate of noodles flavoured with creamy soya sauce, bacon, shiitake mushrooms and bamboo shoots. But after much to-ing and fro-ing, I settle on the Teishoku agedashi tofu. The Teishoku in the name is a reference to the traditional Japanese set menu, which might consist of a main dish, rice, side dish and soup. My tofu – five squares accompanied by slices of sweet potato in a flavoursome kombu dashi broth, comes with a bowl of rice, a small dish of pickles and salad.

Udon carbonara

The udon carbonara offers Japanese flavours, with a twist. Photo: Michelle Rowe.

My husband orders the Panko chicken sando with house-made pickles, baby cos, Japanese barbecue mayo, and a mound of lotus chips. The slices of bread and crumbed chicken are so thick they are held together with a skewer. The chicken is still warm and the bread perfectly squidgy. The fried lotus chips add a welcome crunch.

There are few things as satisfying as the arrival of a new food precinct, and finding that it’s populated by quality operators. Breakfast at Tokyo Canteen has been a winner all round – an interesting and eclectic menu, well-executed food, generous portions and a warm welcome from the staff.

Just as importantly, we’re now totally prepped to embark on the grocery shopping without breaking the bank (or the car suspension). I might just head for the bakery section first though. All those umami flavours have left me hankering for a doughnut or five.

Tokyo Canteen at shop 4/34 Eyre Street, Kingston, is open from 8:30 am to 3:00 pm seven days a week.

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