Hot Plates: Tanto, Scarness

Hajime Horiguchi at Hervey Bay

Hajime Horiguchi at Hervey Bay

Ex-Wasabi chef Hajime Horiguchi's new restaurant focuses on fresh local produce and seafood cooked over a charcoal grill.

After rocking head chef roles at Wasabi, Queensland's top-rated regional restaurant, and at Melbourne's Minamishima - currently number five in the Victorian capital's top 10 - what's your next step? If you're Hajime Horiguchi, you make a sea-change and open your own pocket-sized venue. The Kyoto expat and his wife, Sumi, plan to grill beside the ocean from 13 July at Tanto in the low-key suburb of Scarness, near Hervey Bay on Queensland's Fraser Coast.

"It's casual - nothing fancy, just basic and small," says Horiguchi. "The concept of the restaurant is to cook fresh local produce on charcoal." The menu will change frequently and Horiguchi has spent the past four months working at Hervey Bay's Coast Restaurant & Bar, getting to know the native Fraser Coast bounty.

He'll work with local beef producer Jerakala at Mundubbera, whose meat, he says, "is unbelievable - full of flavour and really tender."

Seafood will also be a focus. Horiguchi plans to marinate seasonal Spanish mackerel and diamond mullet in Kyoto white miso (aka saikyo miso) before grilling them over binchotan charcoal. "Soon, it will be rock cod season, so that will change as well," says the chef.

Tanto's opening menu features just three main courses - the Spanish mackerel plus a teriyaki corn-fed chicken, and Jerakala grass-fed Angus beef, all served with koshihikari rice. There will also be house-made pickles and miso soup, made with a house dashi.

The venue's name is a nod to its charcoal-fuelled grill - and an encouragement to diners to eat heartily. "Tanto has the combined meaning of 'charcoal' and 'man' in Japanese," Horiguchi says. "And then, in the local Japanese dialect, used in the old days, grandmas would say 'tanto otabe' as they gently encouraged their family to 'eat plenty'."

Horiguchi has hand-built a six-metre counter for the venue and intends to use it for special monthly omakase set menu dinners. He has also invested in a soft-serve machine. "The first week there will be two flavours - Kyoto matcha, Okinawa black sugar warabi mochi and kinako; and hand-picked Bundaberg macadamia with saikyo miso."

Yep, Hervey Bay eats just got a whole lot more interesting.

Tanto, 348 The Esplanade, Scarness, Qld, facebook.com/tanto.charcoalgrill


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