First of all, take a look at this:
A few of you may recognise that – it’s the Tanuki (or Tanooki) form of Mario, a special form of Mario in Super Smash Bros 3. But what is a Tanuki exactly? As it turns out, it’s a dog that looks kind of like a dog, but also maybe a badger/weasel?
As for Kuki, it apparently refers to some type of plant, but I believe the owners of Kuki Tanuki meant for it to refer to a synonym of “crazy”. In a good way, of course. And that introduces Kuki Tanuki – a Japanese restaurant in Erskineville with a unique personality and flair. Unique? You bet.
Date Last Visited: 31/3/13
Address: 61 Erskineville Rd Erskineville, NSW 2043 Recommended Dish(es): Buta pork ribs I suppose if you don’t live in or near Erskineville, one major issue that immediately rears its ugly head is the fact that it’s in Erskineville. It’s not easy to get to – you can drive yes, but if you’re relying on public transport…well…not many trains and/or buses stop there, best of luck with that. Disclosure: I drove, hell yeah.
The restaurant itself is quite small. The picture already shows perhaps 30-40% of the seating. At the back there’s larger tables for groups, and if I recall correctly, there was a seating area in the backyard which is likely opened depending on how busy the restaurant is. Booking is probably not necessary unless you’re going in a big group or going on a Fri/Sat night. I like the decor of the place – it blends in both from the outside and the inside, relative to the locales and establishments around it. Had it been dressed fancily like some Japanese restaurants tend to do, it would’ve stood out like quite the sore thumb. Still, it manages to retain a Japanese identity, no doubt helped greatly by the wall portraits.
In an unexpected (though unsurprising) fashion, water is served in sake bottles. A good touch, as not only does it look cool, but also is a fairly green thing to do (instead of throwing out the bottles). In retrospect, I should have taken a picture of me chugging this and telling everyone it was sake!
Though The Lady and I don’t usually drink, I felt that as KT focuses on drinks, such an item should be ordered. We both got a glass of umeshu – a form of plum wine that’s fermented in shochu. The taste was orangy-sweet, with a strong citrus flavour base. The alcohol then kicks through, making the drink quite the effective palate cleanser. The portion sizes at KT are a little on the smaller side, and this is more pronounced when taking into account the pricing of the food. As such, considering our stomachs we ended up ordering 6 dishes to share – almost like a deg now!
KT is famous for this dish – Semi-raw beef inevitably is always just that little bit off-putting from a mental perspective, but each time I actually eat it all those thoughts melt away along with the beef itself. Lightly seasoned with ponzu, the textures of the beef are allowed to do the talking – soft and tender at the centre, and gradually more granular towards the edges. Overall the beef was A-OK, apart from some tension issues where the beef doesn’t chew as well as I’d have hoped. I sure liked the tataki, despite my own biases that generally prefer stronger and richer dishes. Oh and those dried onion flakes – absolutely necessary for that texture contrast. A good starter, but no, not the highlight of the night for us.
The mini burger (going to call it a slider now, albeit a largish one) was unfortunately disappointing. In terms of texture, this was so because there was too much dryness overall, borne from a lack of kimchi. Well, not a lack of, but there was nowhere near enough required to supplement the burger. As for flavour, the pork fillet didn’t really cut the mustard – I could really only taste the batter that it was coated in. Quite the surprise really, pork is usually such a rich meat. Either the pork itself was sub-par, or the sauce wasn’t good enough to tease out its flavours, or the slider’s ingredient collection overwhelmed the pork…whatever the reason, this wasn’t really worth the $8.5 it cost.
Bouncing back from the slider, we get some lovely tempura, which is served slightly below the temperature that I’d have liked it to be (piping hot), but nonetheless tasted great. My particular preference was naturally the prawn – juicy white meat encased in a crunchy batter just cannot lead one astray. Surprisingly, I also hugely enjoyed the asparagus tempura – looks like I like the tempura version of this green more than I thought!
With the exception to ramen-ya, rare is the occasion I go to a Japanese eatery and not get some form of sushi. Today, that sushi was determined by The Lady – uramaki soft-shell crab takes the spotlight. I’ve grown accustomed to eating western-style sushi with chilli powder (oh, yeah, spider rolls are a western invention) and I’m glad KT provided this. Chilli is one of the greatest flavour enhances ever since salt & pepper was discovered, and it kicked this dish into the “yay!” category. It was over all too quickly, unfortunately…I already missed the crunchiness and softness of the crab & avocado seconds after I had finished the last one. Delicious.
After/despite all that came before it, THIS is the dish to get. It’s pricier at $20, but it arguably is the only dish we got today that’s worth the money. Two major elements at work here: 1) Teriyaki sauce. I don’t know what they put in it, but it doesn’t taste like other such sauces I’ve had. Whatever it may be, its sweet to savoury balance seems to be created just for this dish. I think some readers will find it too sweet, since I realise that’s where my taste buds lean. 2) The pork. The texture of this pork is so uniform and succulent that I’m tempted to think it’s fake. That sounds like an insult but I definitely do not mean it that way. This is some seriously good rib right here – chew, and keep adding sauce and let the savouring begin. Oh yeah, and those veggies were pretty cool too.
We were beginning to get full at this point, but the tempura banana was something I really wanted to try. As it turns out, it really is just that – tempura banana + ice cream + chocolate sauce. I think the execution and presentation is great – the drizzling of the chocolate sauce makes an otherwise ordinary dish (from an ingredients perspective) quite beautiful. The inclusion of banana chips in addition to the banana – an unexpectedly welcome surprise. I love banana chips, so points here.
The ice cream was actually the star for me – it wrapped everything up, and tastes exceptional just in and of itself too. This dessert would not be complete without it.
Parts of their menu change quite frequently, and their drinks menu is extremely extensive. If you’re hankering for decent Japanese food to pair with a serious drink menu, Kuki Tanuki has your bases covered. Is it worth travelling to Erskineville just to try out this place? Well, that’s exactly what I did – so ask yourself how much of a foodie you are? As usual, feel free to leave a commend or three
Awesome: some dishes are magnificent (hey pork!), congenial service
Not so Awesome: some dishes veer off the mark, pricing vs portion sizes skewed