When I looked up “best Japanese restaurant” in Canberra, Raku was the obvious front runner, with many people extolling its virtues. I always look up the best local Japanese when we travel, as we love eating Japanese food and I am always interested to see how other places do it differently. We are lucky in Melbourne, as we have many very good Japanese places to eat, some traditional, some less so, and many with excellent sake lists. I am happy to say Canberra is a very lucky city in which to have Raku to dine. It was a memorable, delicious and beautiful meal, with excellent sake and in an extraordinarily beautiful setting.
The restaurant is sleek, modern and very Japanese. The booths, lined with wood panelling and moody ambient lighting, the bar, overlooking the adept sushi chefs, the dark walls, ikebana, impressive whiskey shelf and all the other beautiful touches make this a very lovely place to sit and enjoy a meal. The staff are attentive and knowledgable and the smell of the bichotan charcoal on the robata adds to the overall ambience.
The menu is extensive. Very extensive. With so many delicious sounding things it is difficult to decide what to eat. There is a lot of sushi and sashimi, and for regular readers, you will know, that the wonderful Super Sake Boy grew up in the very middle of Canada, and is therefore not overly keen on seafood. He will eat kingfish and tuna, and is developing a liking for them, but much prefers meat and vegetables. As we like to share, I am always happy to eat things that I know he will enjoy. The menu also had a very extensive list of offerings from the robata. I have never before read a list of the vegetable dishes and been unable to choose which I would prefer. Everything sounded quite incredible, and I have a fear of missing out on something memorable when I see it on a menu.
We decided to start with the ubiquitous edamame, and miso soup. Although miso is simple and readily available everywhere, I had a feeling that this one was going to be particularly delicious. I was on the money. The dashi was heaven and the serving was small, warming and a perfect beginning to our meal. The next dish was absolutely delectable. Jidori karaage, soy marinated free range chicken, coated with bonito flakes and served with yuzu mayonnaise and chilli ponzu. I had never thought to coat karaage chicken in bonito, but it was spectacular. The bonito is so light and crispy, and deep fried, it becomes almost melt in your mouth. The umami from the flakes, mixed with the succulent, tender, flavourful chicken was delightful. Our first sake, served by a sommelier who knew his stuff and was very lovely, was a Shinomine Kimoto from Chiyo Shuzo in Nara. Very delicious, some acidity and enough of a punch in flavour to pair with karaage, it was our first time trying anything from this brewery, but it will not be the last.
The next course of dishes were all vegetables. As we couldn’t narrow down our decision, we ordered all five offerings on the menu, and we were not disappointed. The first to arrive was moromi miso broccolini. Beautiful, fresh broccolini with a sauce made with moromi, which is the mash they begin making sake with, mixed with miso. A nurturing flavour that paired so beautifully with the crunchiness of the lightly grilled broccolini. Super Sake Boy loves broccolini and this dish was a highlight for him. The next dish was hachimitsu kinoko, chargrilled mixed mushrooms with honey soy butter and chives. Shiitake, Swiss brown and oyster mushrooms, on skewers, grilled on the robata. Delicious. Next was grilled asparagus with yuzu kosho butter. Yuzu kosho is fresh chillies, fermented with the juice and zest of yuzu, a Japanese citrus, and salt. This was quite spicy and the spicy, zesty, buttery sauce was super tasty with the crispness of the grilled asparagus. Next was spicy morokoshi. Corn is probably my favourite thing ever. I am a big fan of corn, any which way. This corn was on the cob, charred and then smothered with spicy miso butter. It was completely delicious. The juicy corn with the spicy, umami rich butter. Perfect. The final vegetable dish was as scrumptious as the others before it. Teriyaki jyagaimo, duck fat confit Kipfler potatoes with baby spinach and teriyaki butter. These potatoes were really good. I love Kipfler for their creamy, but firm texture, and tossed in teriyaki butter with wilted spinach and sesame seeds, these potatoes, along with all the other vegetable dishes we ordered made me very happy that we had not tried to narrow that selection down. It was superb.
Somewhere in amongst that eating fest we ordered another sake. Ugonotsuki Junmai from Aihara Shuzo in Hiroshima. This sake was also very tasty. Being from Hiroshima, it was a little more minerally and less savoury. We had not tried this brewery before, either, and we really enjoyed this sake. Out two final dishes were yakitori. Negima, chicken thigh with spring onion, my favourite and my best… oh, apart from tsukune, chicken meatballs… and wagyu amiyaki with shichimi and sesame. Shichimi is a mix of seven spices, usually including chilli, nori and citrus peel. It is really flavourful and these beef skewers were tender and very tasty.
With neither Super Sake Boy or I being huge fans of desert we decided on a liquid desert in the form of sake. What a surprise? We found a favourite of our’s on the list, Ine Mankai, from Mukai Shuzo in Kyoto, made by the wonderful Kuniko-san. This is a red rice sake that is quite sweet and works beautifully as a desert, or digestif. The sommelier bought it out and explained it to us. We told him we had been lucky enough to drink this sake with the Toji (head brewer) and told him she had served it at 68℃ and recommended it on ice-cream. He was suitably impressed and you can read more about Kuniko and Mukai Shuzo here.
I highly recommend this restaurant. It was really one of the best meals, Japanese or otherwise, I have enjoyed in or outside of Japan. I will return to Canberra with revisiting Raku as one of my reasons. Raku can be found at 148 Bunda Street, Civic, Canberra, and they are open every day. The link to their website, which includes their mouth watering menu is here.