Bird's Nest Yakitori
You could go alone for a cheap and cheerful meal of juicy karaage (fried chicken) and rice. But don't, it's all better shared with your crew because there's sake, beer and skewers of chicken cooked over Binchotan charcoal, too. Culinary explorers can venture into wilder territory with livers, hearts or crisp chicken skin. Upbeat staff keep a jolly vibe going, juggling walk-ins, re-orders and refills, never neglecting the welcome cheer of "Irasshaimase!"
Shop 5, 220 Melbourne Street, South Brisbane, (07) 3844 4306, birdsnestreataurant.com.au
Chef Shunichi Tanabe's French influenced Japanese menu at this modest restaurant may not suit purists, although dishes like steak tartare: a clever combination of creamy smooth wagyu infused with capers and topped with a wasabi-cut freeze-dried creme fraiche "snow" may be a game changer. Fresh Coffin Bay oysters nestle beneath a grilled miso butter so umami you'll lick the shell, and hand-rolled dumplings, bursting with Kurobuta pork and prawns, pair well with a wakame salad.
361 Robina Parkway, (07) 5689 1366, cocotte.com.au
A red paper lantern signposts the entrance to the pumping bar-cum-restaurant that lies beyond. Shared fare includes locally hand-made silken tofu; tsukune dunked in raw egg yolk; or perhaps the tartared trio of wagyu, Mooloolaba prawn and scallop. Binchotan charcoal keeps smoke to a minimum while the aroma of slow-grilled goodness wafts from the open Robata grill. Not a space for intimate conversation, Etsu is fast and fun with an alluringly executed izakaya-style fare.
2440 Gold Coast Highway, Mermaid Beach, (07) 5526 0944, estu.com.au
Izakaya Geisha takes its cue from Japanese izakayas – popular drinking spots with an emphasis on good food. It's proving to be a winning formula in Noosa as much as it is in Nagoya. Try steamed pork and vegetable-filled gyozas, or okonomiyaki, a generous stack of cabbage, onion, prawns, scallop, eggs and spicy sauce, covered with, drizzled with the ubiquitous Kewpie mayonnaise and garnished with a confetti of finely shaved katsuobushi (dried fish). Tasmanian eye fillet, here preferred over waygu, is seared, sliced and complemented by rice balls, lotus root and a piquant teriyaki sauce.
295 Weyba Road, Noosaville, (07) 5455 6913, izakayageishajapanese.com.au
Nobu empire alumnus Chase Kojima's funked-up Japanese menu is an instant party starter, its surprising combinations delivering umami-filled thrills amped up with sugar and spice. Willing staff point out shareable hit dishes such as velvety grilled octopus with watermelon; tempura bug with grapefruit and sambal; pristine raw kingfish topped with a crunchy nest of fried potato; avocado and spanner crab paired in the Queensland version of a California roll.
Jupiters Hotel & Casino, Broadbeach Island, (07) 5592 8443, jupitersgoldcoast.com.au/dining
The line between tradition and modern sophisticate is a blur at Sake. Tiny sashimi tacos come fresh and fast, enlivened by a tomato salsa while the sugar-rimmed sake shot accompaniment makes them the perfect party starter. Silken Kakuni pork belly is topped with truffled scallions and an orb of egg yolk to be pierced and mixed through the broth. Flawless service and a prime riverside locale elevate the already engaging experience to one that is superlative.
Level 1, 45 Eagle Street, Brisbane, (07) 3015 0557, sakerestaurant.com.au
Refined and elegant, Sono offers fine dining with Japanese style. Beyond the expected superior-grade sashimi, sushi and teppanyaki are traditional dishes that benefit from a modern touch. Soft-fleshed New Zealand black cod, marinated for 48 hours in saikyo miso, takes 20 minutes to prepare, so whet the appetite with a dainty pot of chawan-mushi – chicken, prawn, scallop and shiitake suspended in steamed custard. Or try oh-so-soft twice slow-simmered pork belly with sweet soy.
46 Queen Street, Brisbane (07) 3220 1888, sonorestaurant.com.au
It's uber-casual with counter rather than table service, but the ramen here is as authentic as any you'll find outside Japan. Be transported to street-side Tokyo ramen shops with a steaming bowl of hand-pulled ramen made with quality Bangalow pork and free-range eggs in a rich, full-flavoured broth. Varieties range from a mild shiso to a red-hued "fire tonkotsu". The menu expands to include pork gyoza, wagyu tataki and chicken karaage.
Shop 1, 145 Racecourse Road, Ascot, (07) 3868 2833; 363 Adelaide Street, Brisbane (07) 3832 6358; taros.com.au
Stepping through the double doors to Ten Japanese is like entering a portal to another world, one where staff attend to a diner's every whim. Take the degustation option for dishes such as delicate spanner crab omelette replete with swirls of red miso sauce. Three-day marinated saikyo miso black cod is a study in the wonders of umami, while a dish of scampi offers dual delights of just-grilled flesh atop a pool of fragrant scampi soup and soba noodles.
2679 Gold Coast Highway, Broadbeach, (07) 5570 1010, teppanten.com.au
Very possibly the country's best Japanese restaurant, the Noosa River view will prove only a temporary distraction from the beguiling contemporary menu, featuring rare Japanese vegetables, herbs and flowers from Wasabi's farm. Try Mooloolaba tuna, speckled with tiny black flying fish roe served with citrus-infused white miso sauce and dabs of red or green shiso salts. Attention to detail is evident in soy/malty black sugar-braised lamb belly, finished over charcoal with dried shishito peppers and aged black rice.
2 Quamby Place, Noosa Sound, (07) 5449 2443, wasabisb.com
These 10 restaurants appear in the Brisbane Times Good Food Guide 2016, available from participating newsagents for $7.99 or online at brisbanetimes.com.au/goodfoodguide for $9.99 including delivery.