Sometimes you get an inkling that a restaurant will be special the minute you walk through the door. Lilotang is one of those places – dimly lit but cosy on a cold Canberra night, the smoky smell of grilled food tinged the air and gave a perfect hint of what was to come. Our table was decorated with a bold pop-art style design, the wall art was a mix of trendy art and traditional kimono fabric draped artfully on the walls.
The menu too was a modern and creative play on some Japanese classics. Opting for the tasting menu so as not to miss out on anything, there were lots of hits and no real misses. First up was some amazing sushi, the most interesting of which was served on a crunchy potato base rather than rice. The slow cooked pork belly was cooked to perfection– the fat had been rendered so that it was moist and crunchy but had no fatty residue. The cucumber salsa and miso dressing added a nice salty and fresh punch and it was truly memorable.
Slow cooked pork belly, Lilotang Japanese Restaurant, Canberra
The charred squid was nice but the pork was a hard act to follow. A tangy vinegar dressing a leaf salad meant this was a nice fresh course but of all the dishes, this was probably the least popular at the table. The wagyu beef rounded out the savoury part of the meal. It was charred and smoky outside and perfectly rare inside and the sauce and salad balanced it beautifully. It was served with broccolini and was a strong, hearty dish to finish with.
In a restaurant full of adults, my toddler wasn't forgotten and the waitstaff had the intuition (or perhaps learned experience) to know that keeping her happy and fed meant there would be no tantrums to distract from the experience of other diners. They served her first and very quickly happily providing rice, edamame minus the spice and a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream. This little effort made our dinner stress free and highlighted the attention and kindness which the staff showed throughout our meal. Never trying too hard in that brash, American style, just efficient and confident, keeping food and drinks coming at a good pace and with knowledgeable explanations of the menu.
Sweet tofu and matcha ice cream, Lilotang, Canberra
To finish the night, the tasting menu offered a choice of desserts and we sampled all of them but the highlight of the desserts and, for me, of the entire meal was the silky sweet tofu swimming in a molasses-like sauce capped off with matcha ice cream. This dessert ensured Lilotang was burned into my memory leaving me with just one thought – I must come back soon!