When it comes to dining out, its probably safe to say most meals are either eaten or taken away from conveniently located local restaurants within 10 minutes from a diner's home, or at places in a major dining precinct and/or eat street. These two options would probably be sufficient to cover most meals - from a dinner when you can't be bothered to a cook to a special occasion meal - however it doesn't cover every possibility. For every legitimately excellent restaurants in a Northbridge or along Beaufort St, there are just as many hidden gems known only to those lucky enough to living in the area and/or the most ardent of foodies willing to venture out to often far flung suburbs in sometimes dodgy neighbourhoods just to have a great meal. Well known in foodie circles while otherwise relatively unknown, Kanta Japanese Kitchen in Langford is one such restaurant.
A very working class suburb within the City of Gosnells, Langford is not exactly the kind of area heavily featured in tourist guides for foodie experiences, however Kanta has long been a fixture of foodie suburban pilgrimages, with some going as far as to call the food at Kanta as good or better than such revered Japanese restaurants as Nobu at Crown Perth or even Tetsuya's famed restaurant in Sydney. With such strong supporters as the Food Pornographer and WenY Wonders Why over the last seven years, Alissa and I just had to try this place, and we organised a meal with our friends Ben, Trev and Annaliese sometime in late Spring last year. Unfortunately, my recorded notes for the meal were destroyed when my phone short circuited and died, meaning many of our recollections were lost (along with a slew of other blog posts!). After making a repeat visit with Alissa some months later, we were able to try many of the dishes again so as to provide the usual Ministry of Gluttony depth.
A meal at Kanta always begins with a small Amuse Bouche of a cold Noodle and Pickled Vegetable Salad. With the sourness of pickled vegetables, the flavour of sesame seeds and being overall well seasoned, this simple introduction works well to whet the appetite but is so small that it didn't allow much room for any great discernment.
For our first visit with friends, we decided to start with a shared series of entrees. The first to arrive was Octopus Karaage, a dish that I was most excited about when I saw it on the restaurant's online menu. In theory, the dish seems like a more baller version of stock standard Chicken Karaage, however in spite of a good, thin and refined coating similar to the Karaage at Jun, the use of Octopus wasn't exactly an improvement on the more common Chicken. If anything, I think Chicken has a better ability to absorb the gingery flavour that makes Karaage so delicious. Still, it was well made and tasty, though it made me wish we had ordered their standard Chicken Karaage instead.
Everyone was in agreement that the Fried Oysters were awesome - even Alissa, who is not a massive fan. Encased in a perfectly fried crispy layer of Panko Crumbs, the Oysters inside were big, juicy and flavoursome and made for a nice dish of contrasts. With a squeeze of lemon for acidity, some soy for saltiness and mustard for heat, this was a simple and yet refined fried dish that is a definite must try.
Usually one of my favourite dishes to order at Japanese restaurants, Kanta's Gyoza was unfortunately the weakest dish of the evening. The dumplings were cooked well enough, with none of the Gyoza burnt or undercooked, however the filling proved a bit lacklustre. Where Gyoza at places like Kai or Hikaru Ramen have plump, juicy and meaty fillings, I felt Kanta's Gyoza had a surprisingly mushy texture. It wasn't bad, but it was not exactly a stand out example either.
I was glad then that Kanta's signature Scallops Wrapped in Salmon proved to be so masterful. Scallops topped with Wasabi Mayonnaise are wrapped in Salmon that is lightly torched, with the Scallops given a nice caramelised sear at the bottom. The result was supremely delicious; like Aburi sushi, the dish benefits from both roasty Maillard reactions and the lovely taste and texture of raw fish, resulting in creamy seafood goodness that is greater than the sum of its parts. Although there were other excellent dishes to follow, this dish is reason alone to visit Kanta.
Our final entree was Sashimi Moriawase. This was another impressive dish, with everyone around the table commending the quality of the well sourced and carefully sliced fish.
I generally prefer not to eat beef due to the environmental impact of cattle farming, however I decided to be pragmatic when I saw Tender Beef Tongue Steak on the menu. Anyone who is put off by the thought of tongue really needs to get over their fears and try it, and this dish would be as good a place to start as any. The Tongue was as tender as advertised, being some of the most deliciously juicy beef I've had the pleasure of eating. The meat had a lovely, well balanced marinade of salty-sweet soy flavours, and was finished with a nice grilled char. If you like melt in your mouth softness when eating a piece of steak, then the Tender Beef Tongue Steak is a must try.
Alissa reveres Udon above all other Japanese noodles and for this reason could not pass on the Nabeyaki Udon. Cooked in a hot pot, Nabeyaki Udon is somewhat uncommon in Australia, and Alissa felt upon trying it that it was one of the best and most complex Udon noodle dishes she'd had to date. Udon broths tend to be subtler than ramen, and while this was still a light broth there was a greater depth of complexity to this bowl than most Udon dishes she or I have tried elsewhere. Although soaked in the broth, the piece of tempura were well cooked in a light, refined batter and the raw egg cracked in the hot broth worked as a creamy, semi-set addition that reminded us of its essential role in a good steamboat. This is definitely a strong contender for being one of the best Udons in Perth.
Although I was definitely tempted, Ben ordered Shoyu Ramen on our first visit, and I ended up ordering it for my main when were returned a few months later. Shoyu broths can be a bit boring when compared to heavier Miso and Tonkotsu broths, however in the hands of a good chef a subtle Shoyu can be light while still having depth. This was undoubtedly an excellent and complex Shoyu Ramen, having a nice garlic and onion depth to its overall well balanced flavour that prevented it from tasting like a bowl of watered down soy sauce. The Ramen noodles themselves were well made and well cooked; slightly more cooked than other places, but still with enough bite to be within the acceptable range. Toppings were decent if not exceptional, with the Teriyaki Chicken slightly waterlogged but not dry or overcooked, and egg - usually fairly standard issue - cost extra. While the toppings may not have been the best, the noodles and broth combo were still strong enough that I'd be prepared to call it the best Shoyu Ramen in Perth. Add a side of Karaage and this would pretty close to perfect for the style and my personal tastes.
Trev ordered the Twice Cooked Pork Belly, and we ordered it again on our second visit to give it a bit more consideration. Unfortunately, Alissa and I felt that in spite of the good amount of nicely braised Pork Belly pieces within the hot pot, the dish was a bit one note. It was definitely tasty, however it felt a bit too simple and peasant like a dish when compared to the complexity of the Udon and the Ramen, and after a few bites Alissa and I were a bit over it. It was not a bad dish, however Alissa and I feel that we'd rather leave this kind of hot pot dish for when we can get the variety of Sukiyaki.
Finally, Annaliese's main was a duck dish called Kamo Steak. Duck is such a succulent and adaptable meat, so it was no surprise that this dish was a real hit. The Duck meat itself was really nice and tender, and featured a salty-sweet caramel soy sauce with a rich, mushroom flavour. A memorable dish that is sure to please many a duck fan, this would be a good alternative to the standard issue Teriyaki Chicken and just as good a choice for a meaty main as the Tender Beef Tongue Steak.
The Verdict: Excellent
I have a not-so-secret love for places that have a slightly crappy looking exterior, are in a far flung suburb off the beaten track and yet produce amazing food. Kanta definitely fits the bill, with the vast majority of dishes we tried being excellent, well executed examples of Japanese cuisine. Dishes like Scallops Wrapped in Salmon and Tender Beef Tongue Steak are particularly unique and successful dishes that make Kanta noteworthy, and even their more common dishes like Udon and Ramen are made with uncommon finesse. While I can't quite agree with the most glowing reviews that it is the absolute best Japanese restaurant in Perth, it is probably fair to say it one of the city's best non-fine dining Japanese restaurants. Definitely worth the drive and a reservation.