I was lunched recently at Lilo Tang. Lunched as in taken out by someone who had a generous entertaining budget who wanted to impress. And I was impressed by the food at Lilo Tang.
Lilo Tang is a modern Japanese restaurant in the Burbury Hotel & Apartments, part of the Realm precinct in Barton. The walls are adorned with catchy manga prints, and the open plan modern décor screams casual yet pricey.
The restaurant does tasting menus, but our menu was a combination that is not on the menu. My host is a regular, and the waiter clearly knew what he liked. Service was quietly attentive, not hovering yet ensuring there was little gap between courses. The routine had been done many times before.
We started with dishes from the ‘small’ menu. First was one of my favourites: fresh edamame (soy beans), in this case grilled (not on menu). I had fun squeezing the beans out between my teeth; you don’t eat the skins, only the tender beans inside. Then came fresh oysters with lime ponzu ($18), which unlike some large oysters were tender and perfectly matched by the light ponzu sauce. My host’s favourite, tuna sashimi with avocado wasabi and soy ($15), came next. It was a small bowl for the price, but a nice balance of flavours and if money is no option is a dish worth splurging on.
One of Lilo Tang’s specialities is its robata dishes, grilled over special white binchotan charcoals. While there is a ‘robata’ section of the menu, many of the dishes incorporate the charcoaling technique. I was intrigued by the fusion dish of chargrilled baby octopus, mizuna, pinenuts and mustard miso ($15), which was served with rocket and cauliflower. The octopus was more European style than Asian, yet with Asian flavours and a nice balance with the mustard miso.
And I savoured the tender grilled shitake, enokitake, king brown mushrooms and selected special soy ($12) with a squeeze of lime.
The main meal of black cod saikyo miso yaki ($35), was small, slightly fatty and nicely grilled cod served with rice. Very simple and beautiful. But not abundant for the price.
We concluded with dessert. At first I was (quietly) disappointed my host had not chosen the sticky mochi-mochi green tea ice-cream ($12). But I was unexpected wowed by the subtle, not-so-sweet taste of the houji tea smooth pudding, candied sweet potato ($12). And I don’t usually like sweet potato.
Although we dined on a weekday when I would have expected several business lunches, the restaurant was almost empty. I wonder if the Canberra market is quite ready for upmarket modern Japanese. Perhaps the price makes it difficult for the average public servant to enjoy on a lunchbreak. The restaurant has just announced a new $22 bento box range, which might help more people discover it.