Kuki Tanuki – Izakaya In the Works

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.

Kuki Tanuki interior

Narrow restaurant area at the front, almost like a den – a den of tasty, tasty food!

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.

Kuki tanuki water sake bottle

Water in sake bottles, how cheeky – temptation to order sake +1

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!

Oubai umeshu - Rich and sweet withhints of peach and cherry.

Oubai umeshu – Rich and sweet with hints of peach and cherry. $8

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!

Kuki tanuki Wagyu roast beef tataki - thinly sliced wagyu strips w/ponzu dressing

Wagyu roast beef tataki – thinly sliced wagyu strips w/ponzu dressing: $16

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.

Kuki tanuki katsu mini burger - juicy crumbed pork fillet w/spicy kimchi, cucumber & mustard mayo

Kuki katsu mini burger – juicy crumbed pork fillet w/spicy kimchi, cucumber & mustard mayo: $8.5

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.

Kuki Tanuki katsu mini burger

Almost like a Maccas ad I swear….

Kuki tanuki assorted tempura prawns, asparagus, sweet potato and egg plant.

Assorted tempura – prawns, asparagus, sweet potato and egg plant: $14

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!

Kuki tanuki assorted tempura

The obligatory multi-angle shot

Kuki Tanuki Spicy spider inside out roll - soft shell crab, cucumber, avocado & spicy mayo

Spicy spider inside out roll – soft shell crab, cucumber, avocado & spicy mayo: $14

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.

Kuki tanuki spider roll sushi

Naturally, more angles because sushi is beautiful

Kuki tanuki Tender buta pork ribs - marinated in a teriyaki sauce & served w/seasonal veggies

Tender buta pork ribs – marinated in a teriyaki sauce & served w/seasonal veggies: $20

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.

Kuki tanuki pork ribs

Mmmmm, so goood

Kuki Tanuki Tempura banana - warm & sweet tempura banana w/black sesame ice cream & a delicious house made chocolate sauce

Tempura banana – warm & sweet tempura banana w/black sesame ice cream & a delicious house made chocolate sauce: $7.5

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.

Kuki tanuki tempura banana

Desserts always deserve more than one angle

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.

Kuki tanuki tempura banana

And perhaps a macro shot too

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

7/10 Caesars

Kuki Tanuki - Japanese Sake Bar on Urbanspoon

6 comments on “Kuki Tanuki – Izakaya In the Works”

  1. N Reply

    Erskineville is serviced by 3 train stations within 1km on two different train lines! (Newtown, Erskineville & Macdonaldtown) Not to mention the various buses that ply the area. I’d consider it the most well connected suburb outside of the CBD!

    Other than that – nice review, KT is my favourite Japanese place in Sydney.

    • Michael Shen @ imstillhungry.net Reply

      Though that’s true, trains rarely seem to stop there! That said, I have this feeling it’s easy to get to if you happen to be on one of the lines – not so easy otherwise.

      Glad to hear you like it so much 🙂

  2. Sherrie @ Crystal Noir Reply

    Pork ribs are all sorts of amazing when cooked well! I’ve had many a delicious pork rib that vary so much in terms of flavour profile 😀 teriyaki ones sound very yummy!

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