If you walk into Kusuka Cafe, you clearly did not end up here by accident. If, however, you order avo on toast or an acai bowl, then your mistakes are evident. Why do I say this? It can be summed up in just one word: Indomie.
Date Last Visited: 2/Sep/2017
Address: Shop 4, Bijou Lane, Haymarket, NSW 2000, Sydney, NSW, Sydney, CBD, Sydney
Highlight Dishes: anything with mi goreng in it
Price Guide (approx): $25pp plus drinks
Though we visited as regular customers, Kusuka’s staff provided us with two complimentary dishes. As such, The Usual Disclaimer applies to a limited extent.
Pan-Asian cuisine has always been a mainstay of multicultural Sydney’s food scene, especially within the city’s more Asian enclaves. It should hardly be a surprise that Kusuka Cafe is located in Haymarket – the target market is right there, though the food might just be good enough draw even the entrenched Surry Hills & Darlinghurst crowds to the shores of Central.
You’ll find the usual safe staples such as avocado on toast, acai bowls and the like. But Western cafe fare is certainly not what the Southeast Asians that comprise the majority of Kusuka Cafe’s clientele come for. It is a warung kopi, where warung refers to a family-run business, and kopi (or kopitiam) referring to a SEA-style coffee & drinks shop. Think a Japanese vending machine’s variety of traditional SEA-style drinks (plus a few whacky ones for good measure); lots of single-bowl hunger busters filled with uni-student staples such as mi goreng, bacon, cheese, and Chinese sausage; fried chicken with eye watering levels of heat, and traditional Indonesian pancakes.
First impressions were good, except for its alleyway location. It’s frankly a bit dodgy, for the lack of a better word; seeing a guy doing his business in broad daylight less than 20 metres from the cafe was hardly inspiring.
Still, if I’m complaining about the where, then you know that I don’t have much criticism of the what – and that’s because the food at Kusuka Cafe is damn good. This is admittedly surprising for many reasons – the shoe box-sized kitchen, the suspiciously extensive menu (they can’t possibly do that many dishes to an acceptable standard, right?), and just how well could Asian street food translate into a cafe setting?
You already know what always happens when I ask rhetorical questions like these.
But first, the drinks (of which there is an entire page’s listing). A photogenic hypovocado shake initially triggered my ‘Instagram effect’ alarm. Fortunately, this was not the diabetes-inducing, sugar-laden bomb it appeared to be – instead turning out to be a creamy, delicious beverage with deftly-controlled sugar levels. I particularly liked the dark chocolate hit – there was just the right amount – as well as being able to taste the actual avocado in the shake.
That it also happens to be excellent Instagram fodder? A bonus.
While a full Western-style coffee menu exists, Indo-style kopi susu was the order of choice, considering Kusuka Cafe’s heritage. Besides, who doesn’t like the guilty pleasure that is essentially Nestlé instant washed down with a ludicrous amount of condensed milk?
Kusuka’s kopi susu can be had either hot or cold, with generous portioning, and Goldilocks-levels of balance between sweet and coffee bitter. It definitely didn’t feel like it was too much – evidenced by the fact that we didn’t leave a drop of it remaining.
Hold on tight to those drinks, you’ll be sipping on them plenty to counteract the fire that is to be found in the food:
This is SEA street fare in all its glory: fried meat, buttered vegetables, fiery chillies. It’s the perfect hangover cure really – perhaps even to the point where there may be an incentive in getting hammered the night before, so that you can indulge on Kusuka Cafe’s fare with a little less guilt. (Drink responsibly guys :1)
The star of the show, Kusuka’s signature dish is undoubtedly the super bowl. A double serve of mi goreng (who in their right mind ever eats just one packet?), a ton of pork belly, corned beef, buttered corn, cheese and chilli salsa is the ultimate ‘struggling student’ meal. It’s hot, it’s salty, and the mi goreng seasoning is incredibly legit. The noodles were al dente, the pork belly was well-rendered, and the buttery corn was a delight. Heck, I could even appreciate the vegetables – the pretense of health is as hilarious as it was needed.
I did find the corned beef tasting slightly funny – almost like canned tuna, and it’s a waste of words to say that the dish is really oily; however, I still ended up eating the entire damn thing.
After all, I just couldn’t pass up the chance to relive my student days all over again.
Every culture’s got their take on fried chicken: Kusuka Cafe’s version is the Indo favourite of ayam geprek, or crunchy chicken – Indo fried chicken. It’s served with more rice than you could ever want, plenty of buttered corn, mushrooms, cucumber and a cheesy mozzarella topping. It’s almost like a restrained version of the super bowl – if such a thing were to exist at Kusuka.
The ratio of batter to chicken was off – overly favouring the batter. While great for the inner crunch monster, it meant the actual chicken meat didn’t get a chance to shine as much. Other than that, the most notable difference with Kusuka’s chicken and perhaps any other kind is the acute, slightly citric chilli kick from a kind of fiery sambal known as chilli taichan. When I say it’s hot, I mean Asian hot. Remember when I said hold onto your milky drinks? You can thank me now.
A new entry to the ‘hungry bowls’ section of the menu, that Kusuka’s staff treated us to (thanks Mario!); the hangry bowl is perhaps the new super bowl, making short work of any remaining stomach space I had left. This monster meal-in-a-bowl combines pretty much everything that the kitchen is capable of making, except perhaps the kitchen sink. Fried chicken, mushrooms, chilli, mi goreng, buttered corn, rice and mayo are all included, with the result being a bowl as tasty as it was pretty. I was particularly fond of the cheeky inclusion of hash browns – they were cooked really well (golden on the outside, fluffy within), standing out big time.
A dish I haven’t had in literally years, martabak is a true traditional Indo classic that ranks almost right up there with mi goreng. It’s a pan-fried pancake, stuffed with either savoury or sweet fillings, ubiquitous across any kopitiam or hawker centre. A beef martabak is Kusuka’s choice, and you can have it either plain, topped with cheese and/or chilli taichan. Naturally, the ultimate beef martabak – with both toppings, was the only allowable order for this ever-hungry blogger, and boy, what a doozy it was.
The martabak was perfect: edges charged & crisped to perfection, skillful balance of beef and perfectly-cooked pancake mix within, and eye-watering amounts of chilli taichan on top made this dish my personal favourite. I love mi goreng, damn you know I do, but I would return to Kusuka for the martabak.
While it may seem strange to outsiders, wacky drinks with colour and character are a big part of SEA culture. Kusuka Cafe’s taken this obsession to a new level, allowing us as the first customers of the cafe to sample their latest original creation, grandly dubbed Genesis: The Galaxy Drink. The naming would almost be laughably absurd, in that cleverly deliberate, attention-grabbing fashion. Except, this is a drink that actually lives up to its promise. Just check out the video below!
So yeah, it’s a cool drink – essentially an indisputable fact. In terms of flavour, it’s basically sugar water with a subtle grape flavour. I had expected it to have the taste of soda, given the mesmerising swirl effect; however, it was surprisingly flat. The staff mentioned that introducing fizz negatively impacts the galaxy effect; however, they’re currently working on it. Fingers crossed – otherwise this is one instance where you’re really just ordering for the sake of ooohing, aaaahing, and inevitably – Instagramming.
Kusuka Cafe is an auspicious find in a time when I have been feeling quite uninspired about the Sydney cafe scene. Yeah sure, it’s pretty much just a mi goreng and fried chicken cafe. But it’s tasty, it’s punchy, the drinks are surprisingly good, and most importantly:
I’ll be bak, for martabak.
This post is based on an independently-paid visit to Kusuka Cafe; however, staff provided an extra drink + extra dish free of charge without prompting
Would you like to see more Southeast Asian-inspired cafes pop up in Sydney? I know I do – let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
- Your enjoyment of Kusuka Cafe’s food only increases the more of a hangover you have
- No holds barred usage of chilli
- This isn’t Melbourne: can’t say I was a fan of the alleyway location
- The heavy focus on comfort food means there are better cafes to visit if you’re not into mi goreng
Would I return: absolutely
I have a new scoring system! Read all about it here.
Most important takeaway – three separate scores for food, service and ambiance to give the final score. The new system is not compatible with any score given prior to 11/11/2014.
F7.5 | S4 | A1.5
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