Discerning diners will soon be able to travel from Vietnam to Japan in a few minutes, on the plate at least, when Chapel Street Windsor’s Tokyo Tina joins neighbouring sister Asian street food restaurants, Hanoi Hannah, Hanoi Hannah Express Lane and Saigon Sally.
Tokyo Tina’s co-owners, Simon Blacher, Nic Coulter and Paul Nguyen, will be joined this time round by Saigon Sally head chef, Adrian Li, who will run the kitchen, and Hanoi Hannah’s Charlie Rothery on front of house. All five went on a scouting mission to Tokyo last year to check out the coolest restaurants and street food spots and they’ll take a similarly unique twist as showcased in their other eateries.
‘We’re not too traditional with anything we do,’ Blacher says. ‘It’s our modern take on Japanese, with no sushi, sashimi or tempura. People love that fast, healthy Asian food but they’re also into the dining experience. We can take advantage of both.’
Aiming to be as accessible as Hanoi Hannah and Saigon Sally, Tokyo Tina will sit somewhere in the middle in terms of price. The menu will offer ceviche cones, teriyaki-glazed oxtongue yakitori and ramen bowls packed with blue swimmer crab, pickled bamboo, chilli oil and corn.
‘We’re offering Chapel Street’s first Ramen and some big grill items as well,’ Blacher says. ‘In Tokyo, they eat a lot of cured fish, but instead of normal straight up cuts of salmon or tuna they go for the fattiest fish they can cure and then cook, so we’re doing a cured snapper which we then blowtorch so the skin crisps up and we serve it with a cucumber granita on top.’
A much bigger outing, the boys took over a former bong shop and its next-door neighbour hydro joint; Tokyo Tina will have a separate bar area, dining room and kitchen area with streetside seating, too. ‘The space is big but it doesn’t feel too much,’ Blacher says. ‘The trap people fall into is getting these large tenancies and going as big as they can, but you walk in for lunch and it feels too empty and cold.’
Designed by the boys themselves, Tokyo Tina will have less of a focus on the ramshackle knick-knack look of the other joints in favour of a cleaner, textural finish, all timber and tiles – more befitting of a modern Japanese restaurant. Saigon Sally’s Michael Forbes will take over as head barman, with around 15 Japanese whiskys taking centre stage alongside sake, shochu and classic cocktails.
‘The classics never go out of fashion, so we’ll take advantage of that and be the go-to place for the best martini on the street, rather than complicate it with juices and syrups, which worked very well for us in Saigon and Hanoi but we wanted to separate this a bit,’ Blacher says.
So why stick in the Prahran/Windsor area rather than follow other growing Melbourne food empires with spots in the city and northside? ‘We’re lazy and don’t want to travel too far,’ Blacher laughs. ‘The real reason is we grew up southside; we live in the area and we want to see it prosper. If you got to Smith Street or Flinders Lane you have heaps and heaps of good operators back to back, a hub, a go-to area. It’s almost community minded. We’re obviously in it to make a buck like anyone else but we take a bit of pride in championing the restaurant scene in the area.’
Get excited, Melbourne Japanese fans! Tokyo Tina is set to open Friday 6th February.
Tokyo Tina | 66A Chapel Street, Windsor
Image Credit: From left: Charlie Rothery, Nic Coulter and Adrian Li. Nick West for The Urban List.