394 St Georges Rd Fitzroy North, VIC 3068
|Opening hours||Mon-Fri 8am-2.30pm; Sat 8.30am-2.30pm; Sun 9am-2pm|
|Prices||Cheap (mains under $20)|
Taiyo Sun's food, drink and aesthetic are charmingly, authentically Japanese but it wasn't anything I ate, drank or saw that cemented the feeling of having entered a door in Fitzroy North and tumbling through a portal to Japan. It happened when I went to the toilet and faced the solo diner's conundrum: do I take all my stuff with me or leave it perilously alone at my table?
In Japan, theft is famously rare. Travellers often have stories about wallets misplaced on trains, or suitcases forgotten on kerbs and the miraculous reclamation of said objects hours later. Indeed, The Economist recently reported that Japanese police have so little to do that they placed a case of beer in an unlocked car and waited a week for someone to open the door and take a bottle.
With such tales in mind, I left my laptop, phone, purse and bag at my knee-high table and went off to ablute. The toilet is in the carpark next door – don't worry, it's perfectly pleasant. And don't worry about my stuff either: it was all in situ upon my return.
Taiyo Sun is a kissaten, a type of Japanese cafe that translates as tea-drinking place, but is as much about coffee and light snacks as tea. They're neighbourhood places, operating as local lounge rooms as much as fuel stops.
Melbourne's tiny year-old kissaten is in the bottom corner of a modern apartment development and is perfect in a minimal, playful just-so Japanese way. It's accessed via a narrow corridor that opens into a small dining room with 12 stools at low tables. Adjacent to Merri Creek, the side window is all gum trees and sky. Everything is understated and delightful.
Owner Tatsuyoshi Kawabata specialises in toast: big, fat, white, fluffy slices of the stuff. In a sourdough town, biting into a pillowy cloud of snow-white dough seems almost rebellious. Bring it on: light golden toast, two fingers thick, etched to let the butter soak in, with your choice of topping.
There's sesame paste, raisin and cinnamon or, if you're me, a sturdy ball of peanut butter mixed with kinako, roasted soybean flour. The kinako makes the dark-roasted, lightly salted peanut butter even nuttier.
What better to sip alongside your toast than a macchapuccino, a green tea latte with a shot of espresso and a little sugar? It sounds worryingly hybrid but is really rather good, the bitterness of both coffee and tea smoothed over by frothy milk and sugar. Otherwise, there are proper pots of leaf tea and carefully made Melbourne-style coffee.
The menu expands at lunchtime to include soba noodles and Japanese curry, either on toast, croissant or with rice. Japanese curry is thickened with a flour roux and is peppery rather than chilli hot; Taiyo Sun cooks it up with vegetables (mine had pumpkin, carrot and kale). It's soupy, gloopy and good.
On Saturdays only, there's omurice, omelette wrapped around tomato-sauce-flavoured fried rice – it's a fusion comfort-food classic. In fact, the only thing that might be more comforting is heading off to the bathroom unencumbered while your bag spends more quality time in a cafe.
Rating: Three and a half stars (out of five)