Koku Culture review

Everyone is really here for the matcha brulee pancake.
Everyone is really here for the matcha brulee pancake. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

355 Liverpool Rd Ashfield, NSW 2131

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Opening hours Mon-Fri 7am-4pm, Sat-Sun 8am-4pm
Features Cheap and cheerful
Prices Cheap (mains under $20)
Phone 0402 697 475

There are buckets of help-yourself cutlery on the table, and the menu suggests you place your order at the counter.

But it's typical of the sweet service at Koku that the Japanese waitstaff will bust their own rules and take your order anyway. Even the chef brings dishes to the table if staff are too busy, and the barista will trot over with your flat white.

It's that extra care that makes Koku Culture a right little charmer. That, and the way Japanese flavours keep inserting themselves into what is essentially an Australian cafe's all-day breakfast menu.

Egg and bacon sandwich on thick-cut milk bread.
Egg and bacon sandwich on thick-cut milk bread. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

Even the thick-cut milk bread is from cult Azuki Bakery in Enmore. Besides, why wouldn't you want nori seaweed, cabbage and savoury okonomiyaki sauce with your egg and bacon roll? And yuzu sour cream with your banana bread?

Space

Owners Kenji Okuda and Donna Chau met working at Billy Kwong, and opened their first little cafe in April this year. It's on Liverpool Road, Ashfield, right at the point where you realise you've just walked past all the Shanghainese dumpling restaurants and would usually have to turn back.

Inside the light and bright Ashfield venue.
Inside the light and bright Ashfield venue. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

Their bright, light, modest shopfront is traditionally laid out; espresso machine and service bar at the front, with five squeezy share tables in the middle, and stainless steel kitchen and loos behind a screen to the rear. The pair make and market their own line of very tasty miso and soy sauce under the Koku brand, hence the rows of miso jars along the wall.

Food

The wok-fried eggs ($17) are neolithic; an ancient volcanic eruption of crisp bubbles of lava captured in hot oil, sitting on solid slabs of bacon and crowned with bonito shavings that wave like lucky cats. You have to pluck up the courage to dig in and pierce them with a fork, releasing fat, golden streams of yolk that mingle with the savoury, fruity umami of Japan's okonomiyaki sauce (like a laid-back barbecue sauce). It's probably not the healthiest breakfast choice, but there's house-made granola with yoghurt, seasonal fruits and compote for – yaaaawwwn – that.

Rice burger with koji chicken.
Rice burger with koji chicken. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

Take this as a warning, or as a challenge – NOBODY finishes the food on their plate. And it's not because they don't like it. It's because the serves are ginormous. And because everyone orders the brulee matcha pancake ($16) as well as their crispy rice burger with chips or twice-cooked pork belly with red cabbage salad. The pancake is crazy stuff, like eating a spongy green pillow of memory foam layered with thick custard and a crisp bruleed cap of toffee. I'm not entirely sure I agree with it, but I would fight for its right to exist.

Coffee

Beans are Single O's Paradox blend, and taste harmoniously of almonds, fruit pastilles and cream in a piccolo.

Piccolo latte.
Piccolo latte. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

Non-milkies can do a pour-over V60 filter, or over ice.

Drinks

Juices come in way-too-big jars, and the top orders are for green tea latte, yuzu tea and a sweet, house-made sakura (cherry blossom) lemonade – but the coffee's the deal-breaker.

Loving How everyone is really here just for the matcha brulee pancake

Not getting Why the serves have to be quite so enormous #zerowaste

Vegan factor Good options include smashed avo, corn fritters and miso mushrooms.

Overheard "I did not know that a baby could produce that much snot."

http://www.kokuculture.com.au/