Here in Brisbane, Japanese food has become ubiquitous, the go-to ethnic food for when you’re after something tasty and relatively inexpensive. Sushi places are in every food court and in the CBD there’s at least one for every city block, often more. At the ‘fine dining’ end of the market there’s Sono, Oshin and very soon Shaun Presland’s Sake which will open at Eagle Street Pier in the next few months. Shinichi Maeda, formerly of Wasabi at Noosa (and Sunshine Beach before that) will be head chef at this new location.
The Brisbane CBD generally suffers from a lack of choice when it comes to mid-priced, casual restaurants. The sort of ‘come as you are’ place with a short menu of simple unfussy food, a good wine list covering the basics and warm, friendly staff. The stuff of my fantasies. And oddly, the stuff that neighbourhood restaurants in Japanese cities are all about. Which is why Taro’s is my new favourite place.
Every claim Chef Taro makes about his food is spot on. They really do have the best Japanese curry in Brisbane. And that’s not even the main event. The tonkotsu ramen is made with an amazing stock, lovingly made by simmering Bangalow pork bones for 16 hours. Taro’s handmade noodles are delicate with just the right amount of bite. And it doesn’t stop there. There are five ramen dishes with variations on stock, sweet bangalow pork slices, beautiful organic nori that crackles and sparks with iodine, house made char sui, pickled ginger and mustard greens, perfect soy eggs and crunchy bamboo shoots. The deeply earthy and smoky chilli oil is also highly recommended.
For a mere $1.20 more than the food court, you can try ‘the best chicken curry in town’. Chef Taro delivers. Again, Bangalow pork bone stock forms the base, the curry sauce is deep and complex without the acid after taste you’ll find in the food court version. It is accompanied by expertly prepared japanese rice and your choice of chicken, pork, veggie croquettes or prawns and a topping of sweet lotus root pickles.
For now I’m addicted to the ramen, but I’m keen to grab a few friends for Chef Taro’s sweet pork shabu shabu. After a long wait Taro’s now has a liquor license and small but well considered list. For example, you can have an Asahi for $6.80 or a bottle of Bridgewater Mill 2008 Chardonnay for $33.
The casual dining area is comfortable and one of the CBD’s best kept secrets, stretching out onto a cool and private outdoor terrace. Even the way the tables are set and the beautiful Japanese handpainted bowls and spoons demonstrate Taro’s passion and attention to detail. Staff are friendly and welcoming and as Taro points out, paid at or above the Award. Yet another point of difference over the food court ‘competition’.
Taro’s is open Monday to Saturday for lunch and dinner. For just over $20 you could do worse that a cold Asahi and a bowl of Taro’s beautiful ramen.