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Get your miso and yuzu fix at this bustling, disarmingly cute Ashfield café
“Sorry to interrupt, but which one is that?” asks a lady leaning across to a neighbouring table, pointing to a dramatically plated dish. Threads of red chilli and bonito flakes are dancing on layers of bacon, wok-fried eggs and okonomiyaki sauce. It’s comfort food back from student exchange. Hearing her question, other diners eagerly peer over their menus. The lady gestures back to her table and announces to the room: “We had the brûlée matcha pancakes. They were [opens hands for dramatic effect] amazing.”
A tiny café like Koku Culture brings strangers closer together, but an inventive Japanese-Australian fusion brunch menu is what gets them talking. All the Aussie breakfast benchmarks are here – bacon and egg rolls, smashed avo, granola – but they’re given a yuzu facelift here or a miso glaze there. And it feels like everyone’s on holiday; some folks are now discussing what they know about yuzu fruit as their forks compete for the soft centre of a house-baked muffin. At another table, a child squeals with delight as a babyccino arrives in style.
Owners Kenji Okuda and Donna Chau left the fast-paced kitchens of Billy Kwong and Lotus Barangaroo behind to open this neighbourhood spot on quiet little edge of Liverpool Road with no more than 30 seats. While the relaxed atmosphere might be the shift in gears they desired, this joint pumps every day of the week – so much so that a revolving front door might soon be necessary (and so might a few more floor staff).
Up front is the coffee bar, where a skilful barista somehow juggles the takeaway crowd and still has time to pour elaborate latte art for those dining in. Single O beans are in the hopper, and judging by the commuters moshing around the door, it’s the area’s best coffee by a fair whack. Don’t overlook the other drinks though, especially if you’ve never had a straight-up yuzu tea. It’s a warming, sweet yet refreshingly zingy palate cleanser, like a tart baked apricot – the perfect foil for those salty, umami-packed breakfast flavours.
There’s so much heart in the place you might just feel like taking a piece of it home with you, and luckily, you can. The chunky and fragrant housemade miso that’s put to good use in many of the dishes is available by the jar, which should be music to the ears for fans of the almighty fermented soy paste. Unpasteurised, biodynamic brown rice miso like this is a rarity in Sydney, and so are cafés with this level of charm.