I thought I was entering a night club, not a restaurant.
Entry was via the back alleys of Bridge Lane, instead of well-trafficked Bridge Street. Bright neon lights flagged the otherwise almost concealed single-width doorway. But even in the absence of illumination, there’s no way I could have missed the eclectic beats of the 80s/90s alternative rock seeping out. Kid Kyoto’s both at once hidden, as well as completely, utterly in your face with its aesthetic.
This is not your boilerplate Japanese restaurant.
Date Last Visited: 1/Feb/18
Address: 17/19 Bridge Street (access from Bridge Lane)
Highlight Dishes: black hole sun pork belly, preserved lemon chicken tsukune, calpis granita
Price Guide (approx): $30 mains, $80pp for 10-course omakase
This post is based on an invite to Kid Kyoto for a meal on the house, and thus the Usual Disclaimer applies.
It doesn’t take much for it to dawn on you just how hard the rebellious musician is being pushed at Kid Kyoto. It’s in the menu naming structure (intro, raw & unplugged, main stage, b-sides & encore), it’s in the website intro splash, and of course it makes itself heard – very loudly – over the restaurant’s speakers. I’m surprised we weren’t provided optional earplugs. I kid, the music is admittedly a small exaggeration: you can still be conversant with your dining partner – barely.
But it’s not like Kid Kyoto’s the contrivance of some upstart with too much money, either: you may not have heard of Sam Prince, but you’ve likely heard of Indu, Mejico, or Zambrero. Kid Kyoto is the loaded philanthropist’s latest big-bucks party project, and with Seb Gee (previously of China Diner) helming the pans, the restaurant has every potential of not just being a bastion of noise that happens to serve a few bites on the side.
Well, you know how it goes – there’s only one way to find out.
The fit-out? Appropriate: naked brick, dark walls, grungy chandeliers and neon on the George St-facing side. Remove the tables and counter top-lined open kitchens and you could well be in a musician’s garage. In fact, given that the space was previously tenanted by Bridge Street Garage (RIP), the location was a match in more ways than one. Ultimately, Kid Kyoto sells itself as an izakaya of sorts, but the multiple dining spaces – a front and back area, plus two counters all up totalling 120 seats – gives it a huge sense of space that makes it feel anything but the authentic small bars of Japan. At least it’s still somewhat grungy.
And then there’s the food.
With an a la carte menu spanning five (admittedly tight) sections, it makes sense for the indecisive diner to enter full ‘Discover Weekly’ (Spotify please don’t sue me) mode and opt for their multi-course, omakase (or omakaze as they call it – am I going to end up killing myself?). This comes in at either 8 or 10 courses for $65/$85, making it a reasonable entry point to try a large selection of Kid Kyoto’s latest and greatest.
That last part is important. When a restaurant offers a hand-picked selection of dishes from its greater menu – as a degustation, omakase, or however it’s named – it should those of which its chefs are most proud.
Here’s where this album might need a remix.
But let’s start with the good. Say, the fourth course of preserved lemon chicken tsukune w/onsen egg ‘birds nest’. It was as delicious as it was unexpected, the tender, lemony chicken with excellent char eliciting on the spot gasps of ‘oh yeah, that’s good’. Mix it in with a clever ‘birds nest’ which actually hits real close to home – what with an actual 63C egg and charred onion resembling twigs a little bit too well – it’s a flavour-packed side that’s almost a dish in and of itself. Watch out for the rayu (chilli oil) in that one – this is an Asian telling you that it packs a punch. There’s no cartilage in the tsukene, which to some people is a massive points deduction – but as I eventually realised, none of Kid Kyoto’s food is authentically Japanese. You’ll either live with this, or never come back.
Another point of brilliance was the ironically dark-as-night sixth course of ‘black hole sun’ pork belly w/nori jam. Fears from reading previous reviews on this number being too dry were allayed with the very first bite into its sweet, succulent flesh bursting with porcine unctuousness. An oddly Chinese flavour profile – dark soy, of all things – dominated, though it was reined in from being too try-hard-fusion with Japanese umami basics of nori and pickled radish. Another yum.
And props to its treatment of meatless dishes: the seventh course of wok-tossed mushrooms with wok hei so strong, I momentarily thought I was transported to South-East Asia. But of course, shiso & walnut miso kept the dish decently rooted to its Japanese inspiration. Okay, perhaps an actual case of fusion that turned out alright for once.
Perhaps fittingly – the ‘Kid’ in Kid Kyoto showed its most playful side with its finale: the dessert of calpis granita & strawberry eucalyptus sorbet. It was like being hit with a glacial salvo of the funky yoghurt-y granita whilst whiffing the perfume of eucalyptus from the seedy sorbet. It’s the reinvention of a classic Japanese beverage – a dessertification, so to speak – that sparked the ‘goodness, why wasn’t this done sooner?’ line. Certainly the perfect dessert for those coming to Kid Kyoto seeking bootlegs of classics, and a surprisingly fruitful marriage of Japanese and Australian flavours.
Then there were tracks in the
album omakase that struck some good notes, but were ultimately forgettable.
The third course of cold squid ‘udon’ salad had a lot going for it: a chewy soft texture that completely avoided the rubbery pitfalls common to poorly-prepared cephalopod. Swimming in a light and tangy tomato dashi, it made for a great summery-style salad. That is, if you prefer your salads to lack flavour (it’s bland, I say).
Meanwhile, the second course of kingfish ceviche w/pickled watermelon took things wholly in the other direction: the amount of flavour directly proportional to its crowded presentation. Is it trying to be Japanese or Mexican? I also couldn’t really appreciate the pickled watermelon – I get that it’s playing on the ‘light & easy’ bites theme, but the flavour combination didn’t work out too well for this particular palate.
And finally, there were dishes that totally missed the beat, whether in construction or in placement.
The starter of the omakase was a sizeable plate of cabbage & konbu pickle that really followed through on the pickle – sweet & salty rice vinegar, and great crunch to the cabbage itself. The touch of sesame was also noted – and savoured. A fine example of tsukemono (pickled vegetables) as it were, albeit perhaps a little too salty. However, as an accompaniment in Japanese cuisine, Kid Kyoto’s decision to front-run the poor cabbage without the emotional support of a main was misguided: this stuff isn’t meant to be eaten on its lonesome, lest it become too intense, too quickly, and overwhelming the palate. This should have been the partner-in-crime for the pork, not the sole perpetrator.
You may have seen pictures of the smoking salmon sashimi: pieces of nori-wrapped salmon stunningly plated in a sea of green wasabi puree. This was actually an okay dish, notwithstanding the somewhat mucky texture of the wasabi puree. The salmon is smoky, the wasabi builds evenly, growing on the palate at the same rate. Not bad – so why is it not part of the omakase? Yeah, we had to order this separately. So when I say it misses the beat, that’s you – the customer – if you don’t make sure of it.
A deep-fried ‘carrot-aage‘ somehow managed to combine both the worst parts of deep-frying – soft & soggy batter – with cooking a carrot – no caramalisation, no sweetness. The pepperberry & orange kosho on the side was also savagely hot, a complete tempo mismatch with the limp carrots themselves.
Perhaps the worst offender was the wagyu, by virtue of the fact that any time ‘wagyu’ is on the menu should indicate an easy win. It was not: overly chewy and missing the beefy, marbled character that makes wagyu, well, wagyu. It was also served in an incongruently Korean manner, with an overly-powerful gochujang-style chilli miso that I felt was included to simply mask the beef’s inadequacies: almost no wagyu specialist would ever tell you heavy seasoning is the way to go. It disrespects the beef, full stop.
A great example of why one shouldn’t even bother serving wagyu with a marble score that low.
Let’s talk about service on the quick.
It’s exactly that: rushed, and inconsistent. Two-thirds of our courses came at us so fast that we barely managed to finish the current dish before next arrival. I’m a really fast eater (and I generally don’t dilly with photos either), so god knows how rushed normal diners must feel when an almost literal onslaught of food comes their way. On the plus side, this speed did seem to carry over to water refills – small victories.
Another transgression regarded our (gorgeous smooth & highly recommended!) genmaishu sake. Have you ever had the experience where the waitstaff does a literal half-job – pouring one cup then upping and leaving? Yeah me neither, but Kid Kyoto is full of unexpected surprises.
I was initially undersold on Kid Kyoto based on a number of underwhelming recounts by trusted foodie colleagues, so naturally I did the right thing and waltzed in intending to give every benefit of the doubt. All in all, ‘it was better than I expected’ is not an inspiring way to describe anything, let alone an experience at a restaurant. Not all dishes were mediocre – the omaka
sze did feature genuine chart-toppers that I would happily eat again and again. But in what could be a cruel twist of irony, it is the service tempo and the more forgettable/flawed dishes that will likely linger as my memories of the experience.
It’s definitely something different: there’s nothing in Sydney quite like alternative, rebellious Kid Kyoto. I might just be back at some point.
But I’m choosing my own playlist.
This post is based on an invite to Kid Kyoto. The Usual Disclaimer applies.
- The music’s not as loud as you think, and the fit-out is quite nice
- Some standout dishes showcase potential
- The music is still quite loud – this isn’t Valentine’s date venue
- Service was quite rushed and inconsistent
- You’re better off going a la carte
- Kid Kyoto’s ‘state of mind’ approach to the food does very little good for its consistency in execution
Would I return: I’m in no rush
F6.5 | S2 | A2