Tokyo Tina

Clever service and a buzzy vibe keep Tokyo Tina humming.
Clever service and a buzzy vibe keep Tokyo Tina humming. Photo: Luis Ascui

66a Chapel Street Windsor, Victoria 3181

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Opening hours Wed–Sun noon–4pm, 6–10pm; Mon–Tues 5–10pm
Features Licensed, Accepts bookings, Bar, Business lunch, Gluten-free options, Lunch specials, Long lunch, Romance-first date, Vegetarian friendly, Views, Wheelchair access
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Chef Adam D'Sylva, Ved Navghare
Payments eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 03 9525 2774

When it's pumping, which is every night, you can sense Tokyo Tina before you see it. The thrum from clusters of coming-and-going bodies, back-lit Japanese-cute cartoon characters and deep base of hip-hop create an attention-getting buzz on lots-to-look-at Chapel Street.

As soon as it opened (February 6), Tokyo Tina had a ready gang of friends, thanks to sister restaurants, Hanoi Hannah and Saigon Sally (which also, coincidentally, opened on February 6, in 2012 and 2013 respectively). Where Hannah is more casual caff, and Sally more sophisticated, Tina has a slick-diner feel.

It's a long, narrow space, with a bar along one side, and a scratchy black-on-white mural of Tokyo streets stretching along the other. Concrete floors throw around sound, bamboo false ceilings cover booths to make them cosy, and, at the back, anchoring the place, is the angular-tiled kitchen.

Cool as a cucumber: Cured ocean trout with cucumber water at Tokyo Tina.
Cool as a cucumber: Cured ocean trout with cucumber water at Tokyo Tina. Photo: Luis Ascui

Tina's Japanese focus sets her apart from her Vietnamese siblings. It's a modern, small-world Japanese menu, with Korean, Peruvian, Chinese and French touches. There's wow in the small plates section of the menu: a sizeable collection of playful, layered and colourful dishes to share. You might be politely picking through a delicate dice of scallop ceviche when – bam! – the DIY bao lands: a marshmallowy pocket of steamed bao to stuff with soft, rich pieces of beef bulgogi you tease off the shortrib, pickled ginger and onion, and mizuna leaves plucked from a bowl.

A devastatingly pretty sake-cured ocean trout dish is delicate and unfolding: cubes of fish interspersed with crisp edamame, pickled pink onion rings, slivers of nashi and dabs of green-Sriracha jelly mingle with a cooling cucumber water that's poured over at the table.

Then, there's "good with beer" food, such as tonkatsu croquettes, cubes of panko-crumbed pork slathered with a sweet barbecue sauce, served with shredded purple cabbage slaw.

Yoyogi Beer dessert.
Yoyogi Beer dessert. Photo: Luis Ascui

Bigger plates include a nest of grilled asparagus and shiitake slices swirled with the deep fire of gochujang cradling a poached egg in the centre; burst it to make tasty, messy mouthfuls that are punctuated with crunch from puffed quinoa.

The range of noodle soups includes three sorts of soba, and ramen. A tonkatsu "classic" is rich with beads of flavour but not the creamy globules of fat fanatics may be looking for. A New Hokkaido ramen, with a stick of tempura soft-shell crab, verges on cloying, the sweet bisque base and sweetcorn dominating.

There are just two small desserts: a banana macaron sandwich, and one made to look like a pot of beer (Yoyogi) that leaves a much bigger impression than its physical size would suggest. It's a ginger beer jelly with a creamy head: layers of ginger panna cotta and pineapple white-miso sorbet. It's Tokyo Tina in a dish: merging Western tastes and Asian accents, in a sociable and smart vessel.

Tip ... Three tables are bookable (for six to nine people); walk-ins: after 7pm, expect to do time on the wait list
Dish ... Yoyogi Beer
Vibe ... Good times, not long times