Photo: Eddie Jim
WHERE AND WHAT
Toshimitsu Kaji opened his first Japanese ''soul food'' cafe on the daggy part of Abbotsford's Johnston Street in 2007. Recently he's moved into the food precinct at the Abbotsford Convent (which also houses Lentil as Anything and the Convent Bakery), where you can enjoy Kappaya's trademark healthy yet tasty Japanese food in peaceful surroundings.
WHERE TO SIT
You'll find Kappaya on the right-hand side as you wander in from St Heliers Street, with the pleasant terrace shaded by a peppercorn tree the best option when the weather gods are smiling. Inside, the tiny cafe (it seats about 12) is styled with post-industrial design tics and reclaimed materials but put together with an uncanny sense of old-fashioned style. It gets a bit squishy with the waiters pushing past but there is a surfeit of goodwill at this little gem of a place.
WHEN TO GO
They're open Wednesday to Sunday from 9.30am to 4pm.
The liquor licence means there is a small selection of Japanese beers and sakes on offer. But for anyone going down the alcohol-free track, there are interesting Japanese teas (including caffeine-free) as well as coffee and juices.
Soul food sounds like a cliche but here it makes a hell of a lot of sense. In the Japanese context, soul food means simple but artful dishes that will cure whatever ails you, either physically or existentially. Brown rice dominates over white and refined ingredients are given short shrift. For breakfast, there's white miso soup and a choice of rice balls - also available for the rest of the day - which might contain white sesame seeds and a centre studded with grilled salmon, or pickled vegetables and umeboshi plum. The mushi dori - steamed chicken - is a bargain $7 plate of tender bird mixed with a painterly jumble of sprouts and salad. For dessert, the green tea mousse - flavoured with matcha and vanilla and topped with little honey biscuits - or the organic cheesecake cover the bases. On that note, the dietarily challenged will love Kappaya - there are plenty of dairy, vegan and gluten-free options.
Lots of people - the place gets flooded at weekends, especially when the farmers' market is on. Later in the afternoon is a good time to stake out your territory against the families with young children and inner-city bike riders.
As the Abbotsford Convent website puts it, ''Kappaya offers real food and earnesty''.
Kappaya - The Kitchen Annex, Abbotsford Convent, 1 St Heliers Street, Abbotsford, phone 9416 0070.
- 03 9419 6350
- Cuisine - Japanese
- Prices - Bento box $8.50; rice ball $2-$3
- Owners - Toshimitsu Kaji
- Cards accepted - Cash
- Opening Hours - Wed-Sun 9am-4pm
- Author - Larissa Dubecki