Cafe Monaka review

Cafe Monaka takes its Japanese tea service seriously.
Cafe Monaka takes its Japanese tea service seriously. Photo: James Brickwood

24 Waratah St Mona Vale, NSW 2103

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Opening hours Mon-Fri 7am-3pm, Sat-Sun 8am-3pm
Features Family friendly
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Phone 02 9999 0836

Earlier this year my sister organised a family brunch at a Japanese cafe in Mona Vale to surprisingly little argument considering that 1) everyone lives at least 45 minutes away from Mona Vale and, 2) the Northern Beaches suburb isn't exactly known for its Japanese cuisine.

Expecting yet another forgettable poke bowl joint, my meal at Cafe Monaka was anything but (although there is a poke bowl on the menu).

Fuminori Bun Fukuda (everyone calls him Bun) moved to Australia with his family from a coastal town in Japan's Shizuoka Prefecture in 2004.

Cafe Monaka in Mona Vale is part cafe, part tea house and part retail shop.
Cafe Monaka in Mona Vale is part cafe, part tea house and part retail shop. Photo: James Brickwood

Initially he put his sushi chef training to work at some of Sydney's high-end Japanese restaurants, but Bun eventually found his way to Pilu in Freshwater, where he started taking notes for opening his own restaurant.

"I was always interested in starting a place I could call my own," Bun told me. "At the point where I had decided to open a shop, I had experience in both traditional Japanese-style cooking as well as experience around food that people on the Northern Beaches love to eat. [I thought] why not bring the two together to create my perfect cafe?"

Part cafe, part tea house, part retail shop, Cafe Monaka first lures you in with its menu. You have the traditional – the Asagohan (Japanese-style breakfast) is an immaculately presented tray of furikake-seasoned rice, grilled salmon, rectangles of omelette and miso soup. 

Fuminori Bun Fukuda has a wall of shelves devoted to green tea.
Fuminori Bun Fukuda has a wall of shelves devoted to green tea. Photo: James Brickwood

And you have the less traditional: teriyaki burgers, a soba noodle omelette, Japanese-style "pizza toast" and yes, that poke bowl.

The food is beautifully presented and extra tasty, but Monaka really hooks you with its tea selection and, more specifically, Bun's knowledge of it.

"Japanese cuisine is commonly known in Australia, yet the tea aspect is almost completely disregarded – even though it is such big part of the food scene in Japan," Bun says, surrounded by a wall of green tea varieties that he's partnered with Japanese company The Ugly Caravan to bring to Australia.

Asagohan, or€ Japanese-style breakfast, at Cafe Monaka.
Asagohan, or€ Japanese-style breakfast, at Cafe Monaka.  Photo: James Brickwood

In a cafe setting, he aims to replicate the serenity and tradition of the Japanese tea ceremony.  

Each pour involves different temperatures and the addition of 'genmai' roasted brown rice so the customer can truly experience the extensive flavour profiles behind Japanese tea.

My meal was excellent. But my tea, brought to the table in a beautiful little pot with an hourglass to ensure I brewed it for the exact amount of time, was life-changing.

I came expecting a poke bowl. I left Cafe Monaka with two bags of imported green tea and a cute ceramic teapot that I selfishly use every day to make a cup of tea for myself and nobody else is allowed to even look at it.

Next time I visit, I might buy an hourglass, too.

The low-down

Cafe Monaka

Bottom line Breakfast $10-$23, lunch $16-$19

Must-order dish Asagohan (Japanese-style breakfast), $23

Get your fill at Sydney's other best Japanese cafes

Sando Bar

224 Commonwealth Street, Surry Hills

There are three sandos on the menu at Sando Bar. But I like to think they've named themselves after their killer pork katsu sando – soft white bread, a thick cutlet of deep-fried pork, shaved apple and fennel and the holy trinity of mayo, mustard and tonkatsu sauce. 

Cafe Kentaro

616 Bourke Street, Surry Hills

Another great spot for a pork katsu sando, Kentaro's menu is home to a number of great Japanese breakfast and lunch specialties, including a wildly good french toast with strawberries, coconut and matcha mousse.

Sandoitchi Cafe

Shop 3, 113-115 Oxford Street, Darlinghurst

Sandoitchi's extensive sandwich selection takes influences from other parts of Asia, too. But you wanna head straight for that super soft egg sando with kombu butter before making your way through the rest.