Named after the ancient title of Japan, Zipang, Chef Atsushi Mizushima’s cafe has a split personality. By day, it’s a tiny ‘dine in’ or quick ‘grab and go’ eatery where workers stop in to get lunch. By night it’s a romantic laneway restaurant guarded at two entrances by ancient warriors.

We first dined at Zipang at lunch, where fast food was the order of the day. Okonomiyaki (seafood pancake laced with ginger and mayo on top) is one of our favourite Japanese street food dishes, and Zipang made a great version, which we enjoyed with a cup of green tea.

Although you can still ‘Grab and Go’ sushi and boxes of pre-made meals from the cabinet, recent menu changes encourage people to spend more time over lunch, dividing the lunch menu into two parts: Bento boxes which come as a set: two chef’s selections (Grilled salmon, Yakaniku beef, Teriyaki chicken and Ginger pork) plus rice and salad, or a Japanese curry prawn, Katsu chicken or tofu with rice and salad.

As the sun sets, the atmosphere changes from day diner to funky eatery. The locals are out to play and dim lighting, BYO and blues on the airwaves help create an awesome atmosphere. Stools and tables spill out from the restaurant to an ambient plant-fringed laneway, soon to be filled by locals.

There’s a great range of interesting food on offer on the menu, a blackboard of specials increasing the interest of locals. Food flows out of the kitchen dish by dish, with cheery, engaging and efficient service. The happy vibe makes us feel relaxed and welcome.

Our dishes to share include Sashimi with daikon and fennel pickles, Pork belly with perfectly seared scallops, Crab croquettes, San Choi Bao in lettuce cups with cashews, Braised green pawpaw, Yakiniki rice bowl and Green beans with cashews. The seafood is stunningly fresh, the flavours resting firmly on the quality of the scallops, prawns and salmon which speak for themselves. Of course we still find room for an exceptional Matcha panna cotta to finish off, topped with a berry compote.

Atsu later tells us that he wanted to introduce Japanese food to the Currumbin community – not sushi and tempura, which are what everyone expects to find, but the food that Japanese people eat.

“Was it a risk opening a restaurant in a commercial area? You were one of the first…” we ask, realising that Atsu formed part of the build-up of a wave of little places along Currumbin Creek Road.

“Yes, but when we opened we had the idea of just being a little takeaway shop with lunchtime the major trade. But it ended up being the other way around with night time getting bigger trade. We put a lot more effort into the dinner menu, making every dish to order, using lots of fresh seafood and featuring seasonal dishes on the specials board.

We make everything in the restaurant apart from the gyoza, which we buy from a local maker. I only serve something I can serve to my family. Our seafood comes directly from suppliers and, when we can get it, from a local fisherman who is licensed to sell directly to customers, so it doesn’t go to a wholesaler in Brisbane and then back to the Gold Coast. It’s on plates within 24 hours of being caught.”

“So why Currumbin?”

“We’ve lived in Currumbin for over ten [now fifteen] years, and it’s my favourite place. I love the beach and the people; we get regulars in here from nearby suburbs as well. Really, it’s a small area, and I find out what’s going on. I can tell you about new businesses opening around the corner, for example.”

Fast, casual, with lots of dishes to share, Zipang began as a classy small restaurant reminiscent of a tiny Asian restaurant we used to frequent in Cairns near Rusty’s Market, seating spilling out towards the carpark, staff bringing out bowls of steaming aromatic food despite the hot steamy nights. But then, a couple of years ago, Zipang moved to a larger, more ambient premises just a couple of doors from where it first started.

Without advertising or lots of promotion, Zipang’s success has spread by word of mouth. It’s not too upmarket or flashy, sultry or uber-cool, but that’s the point. It’s the tiny place you’d love to have around the corner; the place where you could just pop down with a couple of friends and spend the evening downing a few drinks and some good fast nosh.

Japanese? Yes, but this licensed and BYO izakaya experience fits so perfectly into the laid back Currumbin surf scene that it’s not uncommon for the restaurant to turn over three sittings of an evening. Be sure to book!

Shop 10, 31 Currumbin Creek Road, Currumbin Waters, Open: Mon – Fri: 10.30am – 2.30pm; 5.30pm – 9pm; Sat 5.30pm – 9pm
Ph: 07 5521 0061

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Open: Lunch Mon – Fri: 10.30am – 2.30pm; Dinner Mon – Sat 5.30pm – 9pm
31 Currumbin Creek Road, Currumbin QLD, Australia