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April 26, 2016

The man behind Adelaide’s best Japanese food

Is Akira Takahashi.

  • Words: Farrin Foster
  • Pictures: Julian Cebo

Adelaide has long had a love affair with Japanese aesthetics, design and flavours. In recent years, thankfully, it’s become easier to find local purveyors serving up cuisine and products that taste and look like the real thing.


Akira has recently been working on a special event in collaboration with Kenji that will pair the old and the new – both in wine and in food. Details are scarce at this point, but it is likely to happen late in May and the best way to keep abreast of developments is via phone calls with Kenji.

While he can’t be credited with every instance of authentic Japanese experience in Adelaide, Akira Takahashi is a common element in some of the best. His long term work with Hutt Street restaurant Kenji Modern Japanese, his founding role in King William Road’s Ichitaro Dining and his advice on pop-up bar Sato Roji are a few recent examples.

Akira immigrated to Australia about 12 years ago, after a childhood and young adulthood spent in Brazil – where he was born – and then in Japan, from where the other side of his family hails.

He came to study, but soon found himself working in hospitality and becoming enthralled with its machinations. Stints at XO Supper Club, Citrus and the Universal Wine Bar set him up with an approach to running restaurants that has stood him in good stead ever since.

According to Akira, the best way to make a hospitality experience extraordinary is to make it genuine – and that’s where his deep knowledge of Japanese food culture has come to the fore.

“The biggest thing I have done is identify what is different at some of the places I’ve worked,” he says. “So, a Japanese restaurant – you get sashimi, you get sushi, that’s fine. But at a particular restaurant, perhaps the chef comes from this area and this is his unique regional cooking he specialises in – that’s more reason for you to order that particular dish.

“Without even reading the menu, getting that kind of suggestion makes you want to order that dish. And it makes you want to tell people, ‘oh, I had this here and it was great’ and tell other people the whole story – so they share that.   

“It’s not about having pretty dishes and promoting and all that, it’s about what’s inside. Authenticity is the key thing.”

In all the places he has worked or consulted, he’s also pushed for a connection between what goes on in the kitchen and what goes on front of house.

“It’s about combination – if the people understand what you do, then the people in the kitchen will make it so that the front of house want to tell customers about dishes and want to help them order something different. There are too many gaps between the kitchen and front of house these days,” he says. 

Akira has recently extended his work into a small importing business, bringing in Japanese whiskeys, sakes and other specialty products.

“That started because people said they went to Japan and had such nice things but they can’t get them here. Maybe they are being brought in here, but people don’t know where and how to get them,” he says. 

“So I connect them, and on top of that I’m bringing in a small amount of product because I can see that it would be so much better if a product was available in certain places.”

Supplying restaurants and bars like Pink Moon Saloon and Clever Little Tailor with rotating lists of spirits, he’s meeting a demand that people may not even have known was there.

With his finger in a few other pies – including some non-Japanese related ventures such as a collaboration with Vinteloper – we can only hope that Akira’s good taste benefits us for many more years to come.

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