Sunday, 1 December 2013

Cheap Eats - Kotobuki

For years and years and years we used to get our fish and chips from a little shop in East Brisbane called Fish53, that was before we found out that the Fishmongers Wife was just a few hundred metres down the road.  We used to sit down and eat our fish and chips and wonder about a little Japanese restaurant down the alley next to Fish53.  No matter what time of the day or night we went for fish and chips, this little hole in the wall Japanese restaurant seemed to have queues of people waiting to get in.  Of course we never did anything about checking it out, we were in our fish and chip phase of eating.

Fast forward a few years and my blog dictates that I check out as many new places (to me) as possible and since I've been going through a Japanese phase recently, I thought it would be time to hit Kotobuki in East Brisbane.  Lots of people I know love this little Japanese hot spot, in fact it's one of the most popular eating spots on Urbanspoon.  It never occurred to me that the little hole in the wall Japanese spot next to Fish53 was Kotobuki, that was until I went to my trusty friend Google Maps, then it all fell into place.

We couldn't have picked a worse day to head out for lunch, it was pouring rain and the sky was so overcast and heavy with clouds it seemed like it was early evening, even though it was only 11:30am.  We had a choice, go or not go and my choice was to get out of the apartment for a bit, so we braved the wet conditions and crazy Queensland wet weather drivers and made our way to East Brisbane.  I'd read that parking was a problem around East Brisbane, but now knowing exactly where Kotobuki was, we were confident of scoring a park, and we did, right out front.  The problem was getting out of the car and into the restaurant without getting soaked, the mission was partially successful.

As we walked past Fish53 and down the dark little alley to the front of Kotobuki, we had to tread carefully, the tiles in the alley were wet and very slippery.  As slippery as the alley was, the floor tiles in Kotobuki were like ice and several times walking to our seat I almost fell over and was happy to be seated.  There is no table service at Kotobuki, so we grabbed one of the menus as we sat down and started to plan our lunchtime meal.  After contemplating several options, we finally made up our minds and I braved the icy conditions to slide over to the counter, place our order, then slide back to my seat.  With the journey safely navigated we waited for our food.

From the outside, Kotobuki looks like a hole in the wall dining spot, but there is a little more to it, with a smattering of tables inside, and a couple more outside in the alley.  It is very casual inside, the type of place that has plastic cups for the water and if you make a mess on your table, it's just wiped down ready for the next customer.  The main feature in the whole restaurant is the cool wooden frame around the kitchen, which give the place an air of an authentic Japanese restaurant.  After a short wait, our food started to come across all at once, so we had a lot of plates of Japanese food squished onto a very small table.

We had debated about getting two serves of the gyoza but had learnt a lesson from our visit to Bishamon (see post here) and decided to only get one serve.  What a mistake that was, these were the tiniest gyoza I have ever seen, and six of the Kotobuki gyoza were probably about the same amount of food as three at most other Japanese restaurants we have been.  Not only were the fried pork dumplings small, they also lacked any real flavour, in fact I could only get texture from the crispy dumplings.  The texture was OK, but it was all casing, it was really hard to get any pork texture or flavour from the dumplings at all.

Next up was the mixed sashimi, which was a combination of tuna and salmon pieces presented very simply on a wooden board.  There was no doubt that the fish was very fresh and the right grade for sashimi, but I found the pieces to be cut too thick, especially the salmon pieces.  Some of the salmon was two and a half centimetres thick, which is way too thick for sashimi.  There was good flavour from the fish which was enhanced  nicely from the soy dipping sauce, but I can't help thinking that a little more subtlety was called for with thinner slices of salmon.

Starters out of the way, we moved onto our main selections and SC had gone for the Teriyaki Chicken Noodle, stir-fried udon noodle with teriyaki chicken and vegetables.  It was a large bowl with thick udon noodles immersed in a teriyaki sauce with chunks of chicken that had also been cooked teriyaki style.  There was nothing particularly wrong with the dish, but it didn't really pack a heap of flavour either.  There was not a lot of chicken in the dish, which had a lot of noodles and a lot of cabbage and SC really struggled to eat much of it, thinking that she should have gone for some sushi instead.  I ended up taking over the eating of this and found it better when you could get to the bottom of the bowl where the teriyaki sauce had pooled and where the flavour was.

I'd been a bit stuck with what I wanted as a main, there was nothing that really jumped out at me but I finally picked the Katsu and Salad Rice, crumbed chicken with a salad and tokuno sauce and rice.  This was essentially a chicken schnitzel with Japanese sauce covering it and a pile of rice.  The crumbed chicken was quite nice and the sauce that was drizzled over it definitely gave it a Japanese flavour but I was completely underwhelmed by the rice and salad.  The salad consisted of lettuce leaves covered in mayonnaise, and that was it.  The rice was also gluggy, dry and not very well cooked and needed a heap of soy sauce to save it.  I ended up swapping my rice and lettuce with SC for her teriyaki chicken noodle.

I have to say that I'm not sure what all the fuss is about for Kotobuki??  There are much better Japanese spots around town that do both cheap and delicious offerings.  For one of the most popular asian restaurants in Brisbane, it just didn't do it for me at all.  Kotobuki was staffed by Japanese staff, who leant a traditional feel to the place but it was actually pretty hard to communicate what we wanted to order, so we just pointed at the pictures of the food we wanted on the wall.

I've been told that it's good because it's cheap and it's local, which is all well and good if you don't have a car and live locally or you are on a budget and need a big plate of cheap Japanese food, but for me I would be more inclined to hop in a car and drive elsewhere.  

Plastic cups and disposable chopsticks.  Kotobuki is definitely a budget location
These pictures of food on the wall made it much easier to order
The smallest dumplings I have ever seen
The sashimi was OK, but cut too thick
It's not huge inside and it looks as if they are starting to paint a cherry blossom tree on the wall
The wood panelling helps give Kotobuki it's Japanese feel
Some nights this place has long queues to get a seat but its quiet on a rainy Saturday afternoon

Kotobuki on UrbanspoonKotobuki


  1. Hi Scotty, I think you did not find it as amazing as other dinners have because you missed out on the actual gems Kotobuki has: the fusion sushi. I would recommend the lion king, the double shrimp roll, and my favourite, the salmon special.

    1. Thanks Cecilia, I'll have to check it out again some time and try out your recommendations! Cheers


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