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A north-side cult favourite brings elegant Japanese-inspired comfort food to a busy hub of the Inner West
It’d be easy to dismiss this stained glass and grey façade on Marrickville’s Addison Road, best known for the namesake Sunday markets and the 428 bus. Only a pair of well-crafted timber benches out front offers a hint of the considered approach being taken behind the door. Step into Kurumac, and you’ll discover a relaxed and refined space of built-in ply seats, matte black tables and a few choice artworks that soothes instantly, forming a neat zen backdrop to Japanese café fare. And the locals have taken notice if a queue on a stinking hot day waiting for a steaming bowl of ox tongue ramen in a beef bone broth is anything to go by.
Owner Eugene Leung has brought his East-meets-West hits enjoyed by Kirribilli locals at Cool Mac for the past decade to a suburb with a penchant for craft beer, pet-nats and pho. Staples are covered with experienced ease here: co-owner Dika Prianata pumps out Campos coffee behind a white La Marzocco, alongside pastries from the Bread and Butter Project. The drink of choice, though, is a milkshake made with Mapo’s hojicha gelato, which delivers sweet childhood delight backed by a robust roasted tea flavour.
Where Kurumac comes into its own is when things turn fully to the Land of the Rising Sun. Chef Jun Okamatsu’s primarily all-day menu remixes home-cooked Japanese dishes with quiet sophistication that’s still approachable. A breakfast toastie takes the form of spicy cod roe on melted cheese atop a thick slice of shokupan, a traditional subtly sweet milk bread, while poachies get replaced with delicate 63-degree eggs. Tempura eel with rice, presented on a bevelled bamboo tray with condiments – sesame seeds, nori and spring onion, as well as pickled cabbage – looks particularly striking in handcrafted earthenware. The batter could do with a tad more crispness, but the teriyaki sauce is pleasingly heavy in sticky-soy umami flavour. An accompanying green tea broth poured from a floral-patterned teapot could play as a made-for-Insta novelty, but actually brings a clean tannic tone to the meal.
All tastes are accounted for here – sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami – and brought together in perfect harmony. Ox tongue curry showcases this balance, the pull-apart tender meat smothered in a sweet, fragrant curry sauce accompanied by pickled ginger and a yuzu kosho-dressed salad that allows comfort food to reach new heights. Elsewhere, a contrasting duo of more yuzu kosho and creamy mayo brightens a seared salmon and avocado salad, while $24 scores you a chirashi bowl with a mind-boggling variety of thick-cut salmon and tuna sashimi, scallops and salmon roe, garnished with flakes of bonito and crunchy tempura.
The series of hanging Snoopy comic artworks with rap and hip-hop lyrics in the speech bubbles by artist and China Heights gallery co-founder Mark Drew sums up what Kurumac does best: putting a novel, inspired spin on something wholesome, much-loved and a little nostalgic. Importing a successful formula from one vastly different neighbourhood to another is no mean feat, but in this case, nothing’s been lost in transit – or translation.