Reasons to go to Gungahlin, we have a few. It's where you pay speeding fines. It's also where you drive in a late-night panic, frightened cat wrapped in a towel, for yet another session at the vet hospital. We love the vet hospital. You can spend thousands there in just a couple of nights, but they're so lovely and the cause is always irresistible. I'm not sure whether we would be allowed to take the cat there by tram, but no mind since tonight we're not heading to our usual Gungahlin haunt. No, it's the town centre for dinner!
We can't be bothered walking the 1.5km to the Northbourne tram stop, so we drive and already this seems ridiculous. Then we get to the stop and the sign says next tram in 20 minutes, which has us arguing about whether to return to the car, and then like magic the sign changes to four minutes. That's more like it. And an adventure it is, a smooth and exotic way to travel to a highly unfamiliar location.
There look to be two Japanese cafes in the main cluster of shops and we choose one rather at random. It's small, friendly, bright and busy. This is our favourite cuisine so we're on automatic with the ordering - seaweed salad, edamame, agedashi tofu, sushi rolls. So far, so good.
And look, there's eel, grab it! Eel can be the best thing, dark and dense. We queued for more than an hour at the Michelin-starred Obana in Tokyo for this beast, and were so happy to find all that simplicity and freshness in the sweet dark fillets. The eel had none of the muddy flavour that we have found to varying degrees of intensity so often in Australia - and sadly Ogawa is no exception. Unagi don ($20.90) has a big roll of simple egg omelette, strips of cucumber, ginger and rice, which is good and promising. But the eel tastes muddier and less appetising than usual, and despite our fixation with eel we can't eat it.
But the rest of the meal is a whole lot better and in all, we are reasonably pleased with our evening. The edamame ($5.90) are the usual good snack to start. And seaweed salad ($4.50) has us yet again wondering where we can simply buy this health-giving, simple, fresh, poppy and slippery dish.
Agedashi tofu ($8.90) is not the most exciting version. The cubes of deepfried tofu are in a light broth, but they don't have that sticky effect that this dish usually rocks so well. Nor are they especially delicate.
Teriyaki chicken ($16.90) is an odd Japanese-Western mix. Under the chicken are big rounds of roast potato. Potato! There's also a load of greens, which are fresh, and a pile of slippery mushrooms. It's sweet and frankly a little weird and to my mind annuls the delicacy and restraint that characterises Japanese eating.
The tuna sushi rolls ($9.90) are very decent and this is where we would concentrate our ordering next time - seaweed salad, tuna rolls, and of course sake. There are just two kinds of sake - a house version in 120ml or 240ml jugs ($5.50/$10), chilled or warm. This is fine. There's also a premium version in the fridge, but you need to order the whole 750ml bottle ($80) and tempted as we are, there is still that three-minute drive home from the tram, and half a bottle of sake would see us heading to the courthouse, not simply back to Gungahlin for a speeding fine.
It's truffle season so we grab the chance for local truffles on a bowl of duck and broth. The sukiyaki ($20.90) sounds good, and it is. The broth is sweet, and filled with mushroom, duck meat, tofu and spring onions, plus shavings of truffle (just $5 extra). Alongside is a frothy thick egg emulsion into which you dip the pieces of meat, tofu and vegetables, like a more delicate fondue. Massively more delicate, obviously. Thank goodness for the Japanese. Really, there is just no imagining this culture inventing actual fondue in its guise of meat and cheese and hunks of bread. Chalk and cheese.
Ogawa could possibly contemplate this thought, resist the appeal to the Australian demand for bulk and roast potatoes, and keep the focus on what's good about Japanese food - its refinement, focus and delicacy, its sheer health and goodness, the food equivalent of feng shui interior design.
The set-up is simple and casual. The feel is friendly, and we have quite enjoyed our meal. We calculated the return time by adding 15-minute intervals to our arrival, assuming a five-minute turnaround at the end. And yes, it works! We hop on the waiting tram; the door closes behind us and we sit in the most phenomenal enveloping warmth; it's much warmer than the office. Somewhere down Flemington Road a load of late-teens pile on and we're impressed. What an excellent way for teens to get to town for a night out. For us, living at the city end, Gungahlin doesn't beckon as a destination. Which makes this a one-off adventure.
Address: 54 Ernest Cavanagh St, Gungahlin
Owner: Justin Jung
Chefs: Ian Lim, head chef, and Hye Min
Hours: Lunch, Monday to Sunday, 11.30am-3pm; Dinner, Monday to Sunday 5.30-9pm; Izakya, Monday to Sunday, 6pm-late.
Wheelchair access: Yes
Vegetarian: Lots of options
Noise: No problem