Koto Sanpo recently opened in the Brisbane CBD to much fanfare, garnering a flurry of interest from matcha lovers. We could not resist for too long either, being somewhat partial to matcha ourselves, so ventured into the city one weekend afternoon.
It is located on Elizabeth Street, at the beginning of a new laneway development, Fudo Dori. Just a little bit Melbourne, the intent is that this will be lined with eateries, bringing some buzz to the area. Only a couple of the eateries were up and running, but if the gathered crowd awaiting the opening of Koto Sanpo was any indication, the concept will take off.
Although the internet stated that the opening hours were 1130 to 2130, a standing sign in front of the entrance stated that due to busyness, they would be closed from 1530 and reopen at 1630. Clusters of people stood around the entrance expectantly, and as soon as a staff member came to remove the sign, the crowd converged to make their way in. It wasn’t in order of arrival, just whoever was closest to the entrance, which was disappointingly chaotic. People just sat down at whichever tables took their fancy, and all the tables were quickly occupied. We were fortunate to get seats, but it should have been better organised, with crowd control at the beginning.
Suspecting that it was not going to be all that well coordinated, we picked up menus as we made our way inside. This turned out to be fortunate, as there weren’t menus at the tables, and staff didn’t explain anything to us or even come up to us at all, although we overheard them telling patrons at another table how it worked (you have to go up to order and pay at the counter).
Koto Sanpo takes up a long space, that extends back further than you think. There was plenty of raw concrete used, forming the walls and ceiling. The floor was speckled polished concrete. Softening the look was an abundance of artificial greenery descending from overhanging ledges in the main seating area. Cozy little alcoves were moulded into the wall along one side, affording diners the sense of a bit of privacy, effectively making seating booths of their own. Glass windows along another section let diners look out into the laneway, so the space did not feel claustrophobic. Wooden tabletops and stools added a further touch of nature to the look.
The decor had a zen-like Japanese aesthetic. What we did also note though, was that despite that one hour break between service and us being in the first group of people to be seated after that break, the tables had not been cleaned down, and there were traces of leftover food still visible on the tabletops.
Although relaxing jazz was playing the background, the concrete surfaces trapped the noise, including that of screaming children, so it was not all that peaceful a setting. Cigarette smoke from people milling around outside also kept drifting in, so that it constantly smelled like smoke.
The menu was a hardcover lime green book that contained pages of drink options (mostly matcha, but also some non-matcha), savoury food, and desserts, with accompanying pictures to show what you would get. It was different from the menu available online, but there was still a good range of choices. It also contained some information and explanations, such as the name of the eatery, Koto Sanpo, meaning a stroll through Kyoto.
After some back and forthing, we decided on what to have, and went up to the counter, located further back in the eatery space rather than near the entrance, to place our orders. It was only when it came to our turn that we were told that they were only taking drink and dessert orders until 1730, and savoury food orders would only be taken after that. We placed our drink orders, and returned to the table to consider our meal course options (dessert first as it would be immediately available then savouries, or the more typical progression of mains then desserts).
As it turned out, we had more than enough time to ponder this, as it was a very long time before our drinks were served. It took almost an hour for them to bring out our very simple matcha drinks (a matcha latte with pearls and a matcha with kokuto jelly), and they had to be reminded. While one might have allowed them the excuse that it was busy, a table that had came in when we did finished dining and left, and another group was seated, placed their orders (clearly after us), and received their drinks and meals, and our drinks still hadn’t arrived.
The drinks were a promising saturation of green when brought out, but the presentation was a little underwhelming, as they were served in plastic cups, and just partially filled, so it seemed a bit miserly. Particularly when the current movement is against single use plastics, using disposable cups for all the dine-in patrons seemed incongruous, especially given the emphasis on harmony with nature in traditional Japanese culture.
The matcha latte was made on soy, as requested (as a plus point, they have non-dairy options), and had good strength of flavour. It was sweetened, but not too much so, so you could still taste that it was actually matcha. The pearls were on the soft side rather than springy, and there were a few large clumps of them rather than being properly separated.
The matcha and kokuto jelly was thinner, as it didn’t have any milk in it. Similarly, it had good matcha flavour without bitterness. The kokuto jelly was described in the menu as being homemade brown sugar jelly, said to be tasty and healthy. It was soft, more so than an agar jelly, and had that caramelised brown sugar flavour. Unsure if it is actually heathy, but it went well with the matcha.
We had had time to reconsider our meal options a few times, and after some wavering over a bento box, decided to both get the Beef Lava Omu Rice. We were swayed by the more tempting pictures of the Beef Lava Omu Rice, both in the menu and online, and by the little icon marking it as a popular item, which the bento boxes lacked. We placed our orders for food as soon as able, in anticipation of a similarly dragged out wait.
Fortunately, the mains took less than an hour to arrive. The Beef Lava Omu Rice dishes were presented similarly to the menu picture, with sliced up beef katsu on one side of the plate, the folded yellow omelette like a mountain range in the middle, and a lake of red-brown sauce on the other side. The sauce was also ladled over the omelette and the beef katsu, so that there wasn’t actually a complete separation. Hungry as we were, it looked and smelled tantalising.
The panko crumbed beef was a deep golden brown. When bitten into, however, the coating was only crunchy in parts, as the sauce poured over it had made it soggy. The meat itself was overcooked and on the tough, chewy side, unfortunately. The omelette was done better, and had light, fluffy folds. Blanketed beneath it was tomatoey fried rice, with pieces of cooked down onions mixed through it. The rice was cooked well, neither gluggy nor dry. There was plenty of sauce to go with it all, the caramelised onion gravy more sweet than salty overall. As omu rice is wont to be, it was more casual comfort food than fancy dish. One of the positives was that the serving size was generous, so it sated our appetites well.
We still had room for dessert, of course. That had been decided well in advance, even as we made the decision to eat at Koto Sanpo. There was no way we were not having matcha desserts. From our earlier perusal, we found the Matcha tiramisu parfait and the Assorted dessert set most appealing.
There wasn’t actually a description in the menu of what the Assorted dessert set comprised, but for those who might be thinking of ordering it, the plate had a slice of matcha swiss roll, dango, half of a red bean pastry, and some sweetened red beans. It also came with a bowl of their straight matcha. This is unadulterated matcha whisked with hot water. It was a bold green, and very strong. There was a bitterness to it, which is probably why it is tempered with sweeteners in most of the other matcha drinks.
The matcha sponge of the swiss roll was soft and fluffy, and tasted, as hoped, of matcha. The cream centre didn’t really have much matcha flavour, but gave it some richness. The two dango were skewered together, typical of how they are usually presented in Japan, and they had a little bit of char on the outside, though they weren’t crisp. That did impart the hint of a smoky note though. The dango had a softly stretchy mochi chew. The glaze over them was sweet and salty, similar to the flavours of the sweet soy sauce glazed dango we had in much greater numbers in Japan (they usually came with 4 to 5 on a skewer, and you never got just one skewer..). Some might find that savoury component odd for dessert, but it was authentically Japanese. The half a pastry had a crisp surface, a soft cookie-like layer below, and a red bean paste filling in the middle. It was tasty, but was gone in a bite. All together, they made for a pretty plate with a good variety of textures. More of each component would have been nice though.
The Matcha tiramisu parfait looked promising in the menu. At Nana’s Green Tea in Kyoto, we discovered the wonder of the layered Japanese parfait dessert (particularly matcha ones), and we have been keen to try them elsewhere since (Sonder Dessert was one of the first we found in Brisbane). Koto Sanpo’s menu had a few other varieties of parfait, including a salad one (we didn’t see anyone order that), but the Matcha tiramisu parfait had the most prominent picture in the menu, and had labelled layers, indicating to us that this was the one that they most wanted people to order.
The parfait was brought to the table in a tall glass, and looked reasonably like the picture in the menu. The menu had promised ten components: sweet potato chip, edible logo wafer cracker, strawberry mochi, matcha jelly, shiratama, matcha soft serve, matcha white chocolate popcorn, sweet red beans, matcha cake, and matcha tiramisu. We could see many component strata in the glass, and the pocky sticks and sweet potato chip gave it extra height. It was certainly photo-worthy, although we noted that it was missing their logo wafer cracker. After we had taken photos, we realised that they had also neglected to give us utensils to eat the parfait with, then had to struggle to get the attention of waitstaff for these. We were eventually brought these, long-handled spoons with small tines at the end so they could double as forks. We dug into the dessert, sampling individual components first, then combining them.
We pulled the sweet potato crisp out first, to avoid it getting soggy. It was essentially a crunchy, thin slice of sweet potato. It was savoury, but also had the natural sweetness of roasted sweet potato. The matcha pocky sticks were, well, matcha pocky sticks, biscuity with the white chocolate matcha coating. The matcha soft serve was already melting when the brought the parfait to the table, so it didn’t have defined swirls. Still, it had a good strong matcha flavour, and was actually one of the best matcha soft serves we have had in Brisbane (although it would have been better if it wasn’t melted). The mochi were soft and stretchy, though we couldn’t tell that they were meant to be strawberry, apart from the colour. Digging down through the layers, we found cornflakes, which had a crisp crunch, and toasted granola clusters, with a more solid bite and a faintly honeyed flavour. It may have been that they changed up the components since printing the menu, as we didn’t find matcha white chocolate popcorn in the mix. The cornflakes and granola delivered the crunch element though. There were cubes of soft matcha sponge cake, similar to the sponge of the swiss roll, that were initially light, but then got soggier as they took on the moisture from the melted soft serve and cream. A layer of vanilla flavoured cream sat between the other elements and the matcha tiramisu in the bottom part of the glass. The tiramisu was more a matcha cream than a tiramisu per se. It was more mildly matcha flavoured than the other elements. If given a choice, we would probably have opted for more soft serve instead. All in all though, the parfait had a good mix of textures, and would make most matcha dessert lovers very happy.
We had had high hopes for Koto Sanpo. Unfortunately, there were significant holes in the service, and though the setup was pretty, there just wasn’t a vibe of peaceful tranquility when we were there. We would return for a dessert, in particular the matcha soft serve, but the savoury food did not impress. Perhaps they are still polishing things up, but there is still some way to go.
Food: A bit split on this one. Mains 2/4. Desserts 3/4. So overall perhaps 2.5/4.
Price point: Beef Lava Omu Rice $19.80. Desserts to $8.80 to $15.80 (that parfait $15.80).
Address: FudoDori, Shop 1, 97-101 Elizabeth Street, Brisbane CBD
Phone: 0412 433 335
Website: Koto Sanpo