I've been spending a lot of time down the Lambton Quay end of town lately, and for the most part I had been eating packed lunches in Midland Park, occasionally grabbing sushi from one of the squillions of sushi shops that have seemingly sprung up in the CBD over the past couple of years. But there's a lot more to Japanese food than sushi.
Enter Kita-Q. I'd seen the sign in front of the Lambton Square shopping complex proclaiming "Japanese Food Take Away" but just assumed that it was yet another sushi shop.
When, out of curiosity, I finally went to check it out last Friday, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was no sushi in sight (disclaimer: I love sushi just as much (probably even more) than the next person. It's just refreshing to see something different!). Instead, there was a neatly arranged display of bento boxes, donburi, onigiri, and a small collection of side dishes.
Well, I got a little over-excited perhaps and pretty much spent the whole of this week trying different takeaway lunches from Kita-Q. So much for living frugally and packing my own...
The Japanese pepper leaf onigiri ($2) was the first thing I tried. Cheap, filling (one or two of these would be a satisfying light lunch for me). The sharp, savoury bite of the takana - pickled pepper leaf - was a satisfying contrast in flavour and texture with the rice. As an added bonus, I don't think I've had a takana onigiri since my last trip to Japan over 2 years ago.
Onigiri (also known as omusubi) were one of my favourite grab-and-go foods in Japan. Not to be confused with nigiri sushi, these are rice balls shaped by hand into little triangle shapes (sometimes also circular), with some form of filling in the middle, and usually wrapped in seaweed so that you can pick them up and eat them without rice sticking to your hand.
The salmon onigiri ($2.50) was equally delicious, cooked salmon with a bit of spring onion and just enough of a garlicky sauce to bind it all together. Garlic isn't used that often in Japanese cooking but it didn't overpower the salmon and I found it a really suitable addition.
Onigiri are different from sushi in that the rice isn't seasoned with rice vinegar, just with a little salt or even plain. One time I bought an onigiri in Wellington - maybe from New World - and I had to throw it out because the rice was seasoned as if for sushi. Terrible. Anyway I'm pleased to say these are the real deal. And cheap too!
There were a number of side dishes out on the little counter all priced at around $4. Dashimaki tamago ($4), rolled up Japanese omelette cooked with a bit of soy sauce, sugar and dashi (fish/seaweed stock), was a mix of sweet and savoury, leaning towards the sweet end of the scale, but so good.
Korokke (potato croquette, $4), was another one of my favourite grab-and-go snacks while living in Japan. This one didn't disappoint, the crispy breadcrumb batter encasing soft, smooth mashed potato dotted with the occasional pea or corn kernel.
My container of yakisoba (Japanese fried noodles, $6) was packed to the brim with noodles interspersed with pork, carrots, capsicum and cabbage. These noodles were subtly flavoured rather than drenched in sauce, which is typical of Japanese cooking. To my delight, there was a generous heaping of beni shoga (the red stuff in the bottom left corner) - pickled ginger that's a lot saltier and sharper than the sweet kind that comes with sushi.
On a day when I was particularly ravenous I got the chicken nanban bento ($9). Japanese-style fried chicken was served in a homemade sweet chilli sauce, drizzled with Japanese mayonnaise and accompanied by a little potato salad and plenty of rice.
The chicken was amazingly succulent and juicy, the crispy coating retaining some of its crunch despite all the sauce. I didn't taste a hint of spice in the "chilli" sauce, but it was flavourful enough that I didn't miss it.
I also got the beef yakiniku bento ($9), which came with a hefty portion of beef cooked in a sweet soy-based sauce with carrots, green beans and onions.
When eaten with the rice this reminded me a bit of the gyudon, thinly sliced beef cooked in a similar sauce and served over rice, that I loved in Japan. Mmm...
Katsudon ($9) is also another of my favourites and Kita-Q don't do a bad job of it. A deep-fried crumbed pork cutlet, sliced and then cooked with egg and onion in a sweet dashi-soy sauce, topped a bowl of rice. Perhaps because I picked this up towards the end of the day, this wasn't as mind-blowingly delicious as some of the other things I had that week, but it was still pretty damn good.
I'm a little sad that, now that I'm on holiday, my week of takeaway Japanese lunches is over. But I'm so glad that I know it's there. Everything is reasonably priced, the staff are super friendly, and it's in the perfect spot for having an outdoor lunch at Midland Park.
Kita-Q Japanese Takeaway
Shop 6, Lambton Square
180 Lambton Quay
Open for lunch, weekdays (and maybe weekends? I'll double check).