Iori Japanese Restaurant is celebrating 20 years of serving traditional Japanese cuisine to Canberrans.
It began when Chef Mamoru Aizawa, who had worked from Cairns to Melbourne, followed some friends who were studying in Canberra and realised he’d found his somewhere to settle down.
“This is one of the best places in Australia: close to the sea, close to the snow,” he told Region.
“I think this is the best place to open my own business and raise my family. I think it’s a very fair city.”
Dining at Iori is like stepping into a time capsule.
The front entrance is located on busy East Row, but when you pass through the hanging picture curtain, the interior is calm and serene. Painted lanterns and Japanese art adorn the walls, and all staff are dressed in traditional Japanese attire. Diners can choose to sit on mats at low tables, or western tables and chairs. Mamoru explains that the decor is much like what you used to find in a typical Tokyo restaurant.
“We haven’t changed the decor here at all. Our motif is kind of 1980s Tokyo: old fashioned.”
Mamoru says they’ve always been popular with Canberrans who have travelled to Japan and are looking to recreate those authentic experiences at home. And he enjoys serving traditional dishes to younger generations who might be more familiar with Japanese techniques and flavours from modern fusion restaurants.
The menu at Iori contains a range of traditional Japanese dishes like tempura vegetables, hotpot, sushi and teriyaki wagyu beef. When asked for a favourite dish, Mamoru said it’s too difficult to choose just one and he prefers a banquet option to try a bit of everything! Menu options like bento boxes or set meals allow customers to sample a range of dishes.
Part of the birthday celebrations include daily specials and discounts on popular menu items.
Try the Miyabi meal which begins with a selection of fresh sashimi served with pickles and herbs, grilled tatami wagyu beef on a bed of shredded radish, seared nigiri sushi and umami-rich nasi dengaku eggplant. The main meal comes with a range of crisp tempura vegetables served with four different flavoured salts to season the vegetables as you please. Choose between teriyaki beef, chicken, pork, salmon or grilled eel with the accompanying rice, pickles and miso soup.
If you still have room, a plate of assorted desserts is a delightful way to finish the meal. Matcha basque cheesecake is a well-crafted nod to fusion techniques, while the more traditional red bean cake and mochi pair beautifully with black sesame ice cream.
The service at Iori is quite formal but friendly, and the staff are happy to pass on their knowledge about menu items and how dishes are prepared. The menu also includes a page of useful advice about using chopsticks and eating sushi and encourages customers not to feel embarrassed about slurping their soup in the traditional way!
The drinks menu has a wide range of sake and Japanese beers. Try a trio of nigori (cloudy) sake with coconut and matcha varieties, or an umeshu (plum wine) cocktail.
Over its 20-year history, Mamoru has formed relationships with customers and staff. He speaks proudly of the accomplishments of former staff who waited tables while they were students and have now gone to jobs in education and the public service and still return for their favourite dishes. He has also enjoyed being part of his customers’ lives, celebrating milestones and watching them grow up.
“Some customers weren’t even born when we first started, we have known them since they were in a nappy, and now you look, and they are taller than you!” he said.
In maintaining traditions and techniques, Iori has become a much-loved Canberra institution that continues to delight old and new customers alike.
Iori is located at 41 East Row, Sydney Building, Canberra City. It’s open Monday to Saturday from 6 pm to 9.30 pm. Book ahead for their anniversary specials.