“We wanted to give the place a warmer atmosphere, because it used to be colder with a lot of stainless steel,” says Alicia Feng, who co-owns Chiaki along with Mo Chu and Kantaro Okada. “We wanted to change the tone, but at the same time still maintain the “The way it was before because the locals loved it.”
Feng runs Calere, a small café on Gertrude Street connected to her partner Zhou’s upscale restaurant, Gaea. Meanwhile, Okada is behind some of the city’s favorite Japanese restaurants, including bento and gelato shop Hareruya Pantry, sushi and sake bar Leonie Upstairs, and cafés Le Bajo and 279. The trio first met years before opening Gaea, when Zhou ran a pop-music restaurant. – up to 279. They have now come together in a new place that is already drawing queues.
“We want this to be very different from what we do in other places. It’s almost like a completely different direction for us,” says Cho. “The idea initially started as an izakaya, which is what we do at night. We are very lucky to have this place and thought it would be a shame to only open at night, so we came up with the idea of opening for ochazuke and coffee during the day.
Ochazuke is a Japanese dish in which broth – traditionally made with tea – is poured over a bowl of rice and toppings. Here they skip the tea and instead use dashi broth with chicken stock, toasted sardines and prosciutto. Toppings include shredded chicken, grilled salmon, spicy cod roe and wagyu beef tataki. For lunch, you can order the Ochazuke set with sides of ceviche, karaage, potato salad, onsen egg, and pickles.
The coffee comes from Five Senses, and Feng is also sourced from guest roasters in China and Japan. The team imports Japanese teas such as Sencha, Hojicha, and Genmaicha, for their seasonal leaf teas.
When the sun goes down, Chiaki transforms into an izakaya also inspired by Australian wine bars. Zhou’s menu includes snacks and small plates such as delicious shiso leaf madeleines. Oysters with mirin sauce. Wagyu rice with tuna and mayonnaise; scrambled salmon and cod roe on chocopan; And potato salad with jalapeno, shrimp and potato chips.
Larger dishes include barramundi with mussels cooked in sake; Scotch pork fillet with dan dan mushroom sauce; and cauliflower with white miso and saltbush. There’s also ochazuke, though the toppings served at dinner are different (there’s currently raw fish and squid).
Although beer and wine are available, most of Chiaki’s drink menu is sake. You can order it elegantly, with the menu moving from light, fruity, accessible styles to more complex, full bottles for the seasoned sake drinker.
All the cocktails are sake-based too, like the Natsu with banana cognac, Junmai sake, fig leaf, and shio koji caramel. The Oden is inspired by the Bloody Mary, using strawberry sake, tomato water, cordial, cocchi americano and chili pepper tincture, while the Kasumi high ball allows the flavors of the Roman Junmai Ginjo sake to shine.
“We, as Asians, grew up on rice, which is what sake is made from. “We wanted to make sure we fully explored rice, with ochazuke and sake,” says Feng. “It’s in our roots – when we drink sake, it feels familiar. Sweetness and creaminess make us feel good.
49 Bell Street, Collingwood
0479 083 668
Tuesday 6:30 AM – 3:30 PM
Wednesday to Friday 6:30 AM – 3:30 PM, 5:30 PM – 10:30 PM Saturday 7:30 AM – 3:30 PM, 5:30 PM – 10:30 PM