Food News

On the pass with Kitak Lee, Yoko Dining

The chef on making the move to Brisbane, the best variety of Japanese noodles and the hardest dish to master in his kitchen.

By Lee Tran Lam
Yoko Dining is inspired by Tokyo's izakaya dining scene. Have you had memorable experiences at such places in Japan?
Absolutely. I grew up in Korea so we used to travel a lot to Japan when I was growing up. Some of the most authentic izakaya may look rather rundown or not even open for business! But they're where you find the treasures. I remember tasting kombu-marinated sashimi and the flavour was intense. It opened my mind to being more experimental.
At Yoko Dining, you're working with Jonathan Barthelmesss, who was previously your boss at Cho Cho San. Is he open to experimenting with the staples of Japanese cuisine?
Tempura batters, tonkatsu, mochi – all of it! He pushes boundaries and is adventurous. He's all about combining sweet with savoury in unexpected ways.
Is there anything that's taken a while for the kitchen to nail?
Tonkatsu is a surprisingly complex dish to do really well. Through months of trial and error we believe it's as good, if not better than the tonkatsu in Tokyo.
Tell us about the desserts at Yoko Dining.
We have a matcha soft-serve, as well as shaved milk ice with caramelised pistachio and kinako, which is a type of roasted soy bean flour used in Japanese desserts. But I also think the ice-cream mochi will be a big hit: we've created a mochi that combines the savoury miso flavour with caramel, which is my personal favourite.
After relocating from Melbourne, how do you find the local ingredients?
We moved to Brisbane about a year ago and I didn't know there was such a large Asian community – Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese – and we've found local farmers growing Asian vegetables. Paired with Queensland's reef fish, the fresh produce we've been able to get our hands on has been fantastic.
Udon, soba, ramen – what's the best Japanese-style noodle and how will you be serving it at Yoko Dining?
Soba, because it's so light and refreshing. You have to cater to your surroundings and Brisbane is not like Japan where you have four seasons. Queensland is warm all-year round and so we'll be introducing cold soba ramen, which is wonderfully refreshing for the setting Yoko sits in.
Yoko Dining, Howard Smith Wharves, 2/5 Boundary St, Brisbane, Qld, (07) 3236 6582,