Collingwood is once again the talk of the town and for a good reason. The neighborhood has recently been graced by the charm of a newcomer: Chiaki. If you’re familiar with the Melbourne food scene, you’ll know that Collingwood is already teeming with some of the best cafes, restaurants, and bars. So, does Chiaki fit in with the rest? Keep reading, and you’ll find out!
Say hello to Collingwood’s newest addition – Chiaki. Freshly open since yesterday, this place is the latest masterpiece from the collective genius minds of Kantaro Okada, Mo Zhou, and Alicia Feng. You might already know Mo and Alicia from their beloved hole-in-the-wall coffee shop in Fitzroy, Calére, and the exclusive fine dining experience, Gaea. Kantaro’s a renowned chef who’s celebrated for his contributions to Melbourne’s most adored Japanese eateries, including Leonie Upstairs, Hareruya Pantry, Le Bajo Milk Bar, and 279. Quite the dream team, right?
The trio’s pedigree in Melbourne’s hospitality scene is impressive, to say the least. Alicia is not only a certified Q-Grader and Specialty Coffee Associate Professional, she’s also the former head trainer at St. Ali. Mo Zhou got over a decade of experience under his belt as a chef at esteemed establishments like Attica and Vue De Monde. While Kantaro has a deep understanding of Japanese cuisine & extensive experience in the hospitality business, which brings an extra flair to the team. All in all, with their powers combined, they’ve created something truly special with Chiaki.
If you’re wondering about the name as I was, well apparently, “Chiaki” translates from Japanese to 千 (chi) meaning “thousand” and 秋 (aki) meaning “autumn”. The literal translation alone conveyed the excitement over autumn for me, and I think they’re hoping you’ll feel that same sense of joy and anticipation, a thousand times over, each time you swing by Chiaki.
If you noticed there’s another phrase below the name: “hiru to yoru”. In English, it means “morning and night”, kind of like a little Easter egg hinting to us that Chiaki is planning to be an all-day spot from sunrise to after dark.
Finding Chiaki is a walk in the park, it’s tucked away at 49 Peel St, Collingwood. You can take a tram, either number 12 or 109 from Collins Street in the CBD, jump off at Wellington St/Victoria Parade, and take a breezy 5-minute stroll. You’ll find this delightful nook before you even know it. And if you’re up for a cafe hopping experience, Chiaki is just a stone’s throw from my favorite spots like 5000 miles ULA, Into Coffee, and Aunty Pegs.
Let me paint you a picture of what awaits you when you step into Chiaki. The first thing you’ll notice, you’ve just walked into a perfect blend of Melbourne’s laid-back charm and the minimalist elegance of Japanese-Scandinavian style. Imagine rich, warm wood touches everywhere you look, contrasting perfectly with cool, dark walls and those funky pendant lights.
But my absolute favorite part? It’s the high ceilings and almost wall-to-wall glass that invites the natural sun to stream right in. Every table has its own patch of sunlight, making the space feel extra snug and cozy, especially on winter days like this.
The soft opening day crowd as I observed was a melting pot of millennials, influencers like me who are there for the ‘gram, and familiar faces in the industry who knew Alicia and Mo Zhou personally. By the time lunch hour rolled around, the place was buzzing. There was even a queue out the door, and the locals were seen to take a double glance when they walked passed by Chiaki.
Chiaki’s specialty revolves around the traditional Japanese delicacy Ochazuke which is essentially a bowl of rice with green tea or dashi poured over it. They took this classic, humble, versatile dish and turned it into their pièce de résistance. You can order it individually, or, if you’re feeling extra peckish like my friend Xuan and me, you might go for their fulfilling sets.
Xuan couldn’t resist the MB8+ Wagyu Ochazuke Set, and honestly, who could blame her? I, on the other hand, fell for the Salmon Ochazuke Set. These sets aren’t just about the Ochazuke, oh no! They come with a whole ensemble of side dishes like Seasonal Ceviche, Karaage with Genmaicha salt (trust me, it’s divine), Spinach and Shiitake Ohitashi, Onsen Egg, Faikon with Tuna mayo, and Tsukemono. A harmonious mix of flavours and textures, perfectly portioned, filling but not overbearing. and totally worth trying.
Besides their stellar Ochazuke, Chiaki is brewing up a storm with a great range of coffee beans from heavy-hitter roasters sourced both near and far. If you’re into tea, they have specialty selections, and if you’ve got a bit of a sweet tooth like me, you’d be pleased to know they’ve got some pastries on offer too. To give you a taste, Xuan went for a Cascara Panama Finca Tea ($7), while I got my caffeine fix with a Yunnan Pour Over Coffee ($12).
Price-wise, Chiaki is a bit on the higher side compared to your regular lunch out, I’ll give you that. The drink starts at $5.5 up to $28, and the Ochazuke will set you back about $27 to $36, not to mention surcharges. But for the quality and the whole experience you’re getting, it’s still well bang for your buck.
The staff at Chiaki are also stars in their own right. They’re super on the ball, knowledgeable about the menu and the place, and they’re friendly to boot. Now, opening day jitters are a thing, right? And with Chiaki being fresh out of the oven, along with the full house situation, sure, there was a wee bit of a wait. But once that food hits the table, it’s all totally worth it.
Every single person who attended us in Chiaki that day made us feel like more than just a customer. I genuinely wish I had taken the time to learn all their names, as each one of them extended 10/10 service. To my pleasant surprise, Kantaro (yes, the very same Kantaro who co-owns the place) personally dropped by our table after our meal. He casually mentioned that he recognized me from my social media, which was a delightful touch on his part. I only discovered his status as a local legend after I published this blog post, which added a touch of the epic to my Chiaki experience.
Oh, wait till you hear this! The icing on the cake was a surprise treat that they served us – a mini cone of Genmaicha ice cream sprinkled with toasted rice krispies. This wasn’t on the menu, but they told us it’s a little complimentary treat when you order their Ochazuke set. It seemed spontaneous, but I’m sure it was part of their clever plan. Little surprises like these always win me over – what a genius move!
So, there you have it! My firsthand experience at the charming Chiaki. Do I recommend it? Absolutely! It’s not just about the food and coffee; it’s about the entire experience they provide, leaving you eager to come back for more. Let me know how you experience Chiaki in the comment, and I’ll see you guys in my next post!
- Tue – Fri : 06:30 AM – 03:00 PM
- Saturday : 07:00 AM – 03:00 PM
- Sun – Mon : Closed
- Type : Japanese Inspired Cafe
- Price : $$
- Coffee : Yes
- Alcohol : Not yet
- Dessert : Yes
- Indoor Capacity : 26 (downstairs)
- Outdoor Capacity : –
- RSVP : Walk-in Only
- Waiting Time : Slightly longer due to opening day
- Toilet : Yes
- Wifi : No
- Accessibility : Yes