The latest venture by the Chairman Group (Chairman & Yip, Malamay, Lanterne Rooms) is LiloTang in Barton, offering modern Japanese cuisine. Headed by chef Shunsuke Ota (formerly of Nobu Melbourne), there was much anticipation of this restaurant opening.
I have been teased by photos on social media and had my first taste of binchotan (charcoal) skewers at the inaugural Night Market Canberra in December. Now that it’s birthday month (wooh!), I booked in birthday party #1 at LiloTang with a group of friends. LiloTang is located opposite Hotel Realm and next door to Malamay.
There’s an array of patterns and shapes that catches the eye and I didn’t know what to look at first. The criss-crossed ropes hanging just under the ceiling gives more contrast to the area. Art prints and what looks like recycled wooden items line the grey wall. The kitchen is separated from the dining area to keep noise levels down. A Robata grill is installed in the kitchen bringing in a centuries-old Japanese style of grilling over binchotan.
Light coloured natural wooden panels with cut out patterns decorate the restaurant, serving as privacy screens between some tables. A cool feature about these panels is that they slide along the length of the restaurant – giving the restaurant flexible options to provide privacy for diners.
The sake list is sure to impress with 24 different types of sake. There’s also beer, wine, cider and scotch for those not into sake. My friends ordered beers and a bottle of the plum sake Yamada Iyuro.
As we were a group of 16, our waiter provided options of what we could do. The easiest option was to let the chefs decide on a few dishes to share, as long as there were plenty of various dishes for us to enjoy. So first up were the edaname beans with shichimi salt ($8). I don’t usually order edamame as I don’t like them that much. As soon as this was placed in front of me, I could smell a wonderful aroma and knew that they would taste amazing. I can officially say these are the best edaname beans I have ever tasted. The seasoning on top was pretty much roasted chilli and salt. Very simple but with SO much flavour. This has completely changed my mind about edaname. A great start to the evening.
The Nagoya style spicy quail karaage with sweet sansho sauce ($18) was softer than what I usually find karaage to be. It wasn’t crispy at all. However, there was so much flavour in the succulent skin and meat. The quail itself was also much plumper and meatier than expected. I’m pretty sure everyone sucked this dry to the bone. Absolutely delicious! A winning dish that I’ll be ordering again.
The chargrilled baby octopus and rocket salad with karashi su miso ($15.50) came out next. The octopus had been seasoned well with salt and chili, giving a spicy kick to the otherwise cold salad.
I requested some sashimi be brought out as one of the dishes. The snapper with white peach and heirloom tomato ($15.50) was naturally flavoursome and I enjoyed it. However I thought the sashimi was on par with that of Iori or Grill and Sizzle.
After seeing photos of it, I also requested the roast umami vegetables with orange miso served in an orange pot ($11.50). The presentation is cute and resourceful, the vegetables were soft and I loved the added orange flavour. I actually drank a little bit of the miso straight out of the orange pot. Particular mention to the mushrooms – so tasty! Very different indeed.
The turnip in sansho salt ($8.50) came out next. Our waiter advised this would make our mouths a little ‘fuzzy’. I didn’t notice anything (but I have grown up eating turnips). A very simple dish and tastes exactly how it looks.
Now onto the favourite dish of the night. From the robata grill, were the beef skewers in wasabi soy ($16.50). If you like beef, you will love these beef skewers. We enquired how this was cooked to get it so succulent and pink in the middle. Our waiter mentioned it’s all in the cooking process where the meat is grilled then set aside to rest until reaching room temperature, then grilled again. All on high heat. That’s why it takes a little longer to come out. There’s not much in the way of seasoning, just good quality Wagyu and the wasabi soy on top. This was so tender and delicious that we specifically requested a second serve of 16 skewers so everyone could have another.
We also got to try the pork belly skewers ($9.50) covered in yuzu kosho miso. The meat was tender and the salty, citrusy and spicy miso is a perfect accompaniment to the pork. Not being a big fan of pork belly, I found it very fatty. I usually cut off the fatty parts but the sauce was doing a good job of concealing it so I ended up gobbling down the whole thing. The Wagyu beef is my favourite of the two skewers.
Now to the mains – the chargrilled prawns ($33.50) with shiso amazu smelled fantastic and tasted just as good – juicy, mouthwatering natural flavour with distinct charred notes in the background. Prawns are split down the middle to be shared (if you want to share that is). Too good!
The black cod saikyo miso yaki ($30.50) came out next. As a main dish, I couldn’t help noticing it was a relatively small portion. The cod itself was faultless and cooked to perfection.
The sake steamed pipis with a medley of grapes and water spinach ($26) did have a very subtle taste of alcohol to it. My favourite part were the ‘medley’ of grapes that had been cooked with the pipis and still had a little bit of sweetness in them.
Another dish I requested be brought out was the Toban duck breast sukiyaki with creamy tempura egg ($30.50). I’m impressed with the tempura egg – how do they cook it without breaking it? We were told to break the egg and mix the yolk with everything else. The duck, served nearly raw, was chewier than expected. I’m not sure whether I liked it or not. I definitely prefer a more cooked duck.
Lastly, I chose the Houji tea smooth pudding with sweet potato ($12.50) from the desserts section of the menu. There are only two desserts listed – the other being a mochi tofu with green tea ice cream. The pudding really did taste like tea and was smooth, thick and creamy. A bit too much for me to finish on my own.
I have to say LiloTang exceeded my expectations from the first dish. The majority of the group were also happy with the food. Service was great with our waiter regularly coming back to check on us and take further drink orders. Other staff would assist in bringing out dishes and clearing plates. Noise levels are low (but perhaps we were the loudest table?) and it feels a lot more relaxed than Malamay. I would love to go back and try out the rest of the dishes on the menu.
Check out fellow food blogger Tales of a Confectionist’s review of LiloTang here.
LiloTang is located at 1 Burbury Close in Barton. Open from Tuesday to Friday for lunch and dinner, and Saturday for dinner.
Note: Some of the portion sizes in the photos were for 16 people and may not necessarily reflect what you would get in a ‘normal’ portion.
FPJ score 24/30
If you want more random photos and updates about food, I’m on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram