368 Kent St Sydney, NSW 2000
|Opening hours||Kuro Dining: Mon-Thu 6pm-late; Fri and Sat 5.30pm-late. Kuro Bar: Mon-Sat 4.30pm-late.|
|Features||Business lunch, Bar|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||02 9262 1350|
Kuro means black in Japanese, so don't be alarmed if the soft little savoury nori chiffon cake and the Kuro fried chicken look like something Darth Vader would like for breakfast. They're meant to.
Executive chef Taka Teramoto, formerly of Waqu in Crows Nest and Restaurant Pages in Paris, and head chef Nobu Maruyama (Bar H) deliver an a la carte menu that explores Japanese classic dishes from an Australian perspective.
Like most expatriates, they seem liberated from the traditions of their homeland, free to carve their own path. There's even a black lamington on the cafe menu.
It's a serious undertaking, with a dining vibe that's friendly and casual. Two fresh-from-Tokyo mixologists have their own dedicated cocktail bar, while the rather beautiful four-metre bar that acts as a communal table by night is transformed at the flick of a switch into a coffee brew bar serving specialty coffee, tea and breakfast snackery by day.
The broad 10-seater kitchen counter will become a fine-dining experience called Teramoto by Kuro in 2020.
Too many ideas? Maybe. But architecture firm Henderson & Co and co-owner Alan Wong have cleverly corralled them into a refined, moodily lit space defined by 56 parallel oak beams. It's like dining in a post-apocalyptic forest, furnished with handsome black marble tables and contrasting white modern dining chairs.
The cocktail service is Japanese precision and creativity at its best. For a Splash Tonic ($22), his elevated version of a G&T, Yasuhiro (Yaz) Kawakubo appears, resplendent in three-quarter length white jacket and black bow tie.
Using a venencia, that marvellous long-handled device traditionally used in Spain to draw sherry from the barrel, he swiftly pours Four Pillars Rare Dry gin from cup to glass in a single, long stream. With ice, elderflower cordial and a splash of Fever Tree Indian Tonic, it's all about the aromas, rather than the theatre.
You could do well here grazing across the smaller dishes with a cocktail or two. The black chiffon cake ($5) is fun, topped with pearls of salmon, sea blight and lemon rind; and the charcoal-black chicken ($18) is gentle, juicy and super-moreish under its flakes of shaved bonito and pops of tart umeboshi puree.
A splendid tuna tartare ($19) is seasoned with sumac, smoked soy, and pickles, paired with gnarly rice crisps. Deep-fried king prawn ($14) has been schnitzelled with a nobbly mixture of arare rice crackers and prawn powder.
Eat it all, they urge - and because the heads have been fried longer than the tail meat, you can.
Single-focus larger dishes can be one-dimensional. An entire body of grilled and sliced calamari is so large as to become a little repetitive. If there's a signature, it's the 10- to 14 day-old aged duck ($39).
The breast is roasted and finished over the coals until blushing pink, served with a long skinny spring roll of confit duck leg, a puddle of cauliflower puree and the irresistible tang of umeboshi jus.
Mochi, as always, supplies that delightfully rubbery glutinous rice cake experience, draped over a ball of coconut parfait and fresh mango ($12). Delivery can be slow, but service is charming, even when it goes off the rails.
Too many ideas? Definitely. But it's great to see a young Japanese chef-driven team take such a leap – into the city, into the future. If only a few of their ideas survive, we're all still way ahead.
Drinks: Inventive cocktails theatrically presented, a range of sake and shochu, and a balanced wine list of top largely Australian labels by sommelier Wanaka Teramoto.
Vegetarian: Few are listed, but options are available on request.
Go-to dish: Tuna tartare, shibazuke, rice crisp, $19.
Pro tip: The Brew Bar runs from 8am to 3.30pm, Monday to Friday, with considered coffee and delicate patisserie.