The latest Japanese eatery to hit the Vic Park cafe strip in the last few months is Kuza Urban Japanese Food, with a modern, izakaya-style menu designed for sharing (please, let’s not call it “Japanese tapas”). I’m delighted by quite possibly prettiest gyoza I have ever eaten.
There’s a graffiti-style mural sprawled across the wall. Hanging from the ceiling are those naked light globes that seem to be everywhere these days. The ceiling itself is covered in Japanese newspaper cuttings. There’s plenty to look at all around us as we sit but once the food arrives, it’s eyes down.
The drinks menu includes cocktails, mocktails and an extensive range of sake. We begin with a couple of fruity drinks: an apple martini for Jac and a strawberry mojito mocktail for me, loaded with diced fresh strawberry. As I get to the end of the glass, the strawberry chunks keep blocking the straw – this would be better served with a long spoon or one of those plus-sized bubble tea straws.
As we peruse the menu, our friendly waiter points points out Kuza’s signature dishes – wagyu beef fillet with soy vinaigrette (AU$15) and salmon ceviche with truffle and ponzu vinaigrette (AU$15) – they sound good to us and we don’t hesitate to order both.
The tender wagyu is served on a bed of sliced raw red onion, sitting in a shallow pool of vinaigrette on a long glass platter.
The salmon ceviche (why not just call it sashimi?) is served in the same way as the beef, the fresh, shiny slices of fish topped with finely chopped spring onion, laid neatly on a bed of red onion, all sitting in a shallow pool of vinaigrette.
Would anyone actually eat this much raw onion?
I almost always order soft shell crab if I see it on a menu and here at Kuza, the deep-fried soft shell crab is served with watermelon pieces and ginger vinaigrette (AU$14). By the time we get to the soft shell crab, I’ve grown weary of these long, flat plates – besides taking up a lot of space on a not-very-spacious table for two, it’s hard to roll items in the vinaigrette that’s spread so thinly across the long dish. The light sprinkling of sesame seeds would be a tasty little detail but once again, it’s hard to pick those up despite ‘wiping’ the plate with the crab/melon. This is a dish you have to eat very quickly, as the hot battered crab rapidly turns soggy. My quibbles aside, the salty crab and juicy watermelon are a surprisingly harmonious combination.
Kuza’s pork and vegetable gyoza are not only striking to look at; they’re delicious, with a crispy golden crust on their pan-fried side – these exquisite little dumplings are served on roasted capsicum puree with spicy vinaigrette dipping sauce (AU$12).
Our final savoury dish, tofu steak with truffle buttered mushrooms and vegetables makes a grand entrance, bubbling and spitting. In the molten sauce are three large slabs of browned tofu with asparagus, broccolini, spring onion and enoki, oyster and shitake mushrooms. The flavours and textures are tantalising, but at AU$18 the “vegetable” serving is on the stingy side – the green veg you see in the photo are pretty much all the “vegetables” in the dish. We order a serving of rice to share, which soaks up the sauce beautifully.
For dessert, Jac orders black sesame panna cotta with fruits of the forest (AU$12). The panna cotta is presented in a jar with the fruits of the forest in a cute mango-shaped dish. The savoury-flavoured black sesame won’t be to everyone’s taste as a dessert dish; you’ll need the berries to add sweetness to each mouthful. Being a big salty-sweet fan, I like this dessert much more than Jac does.
Luckily for Jac, I’ve chosen the chocolate trio, which she eventually abandons the panna cotta for. This is definitely a chocoholic’s choice, with chocolate sorbet, dark chocolate mousse and flourless chocolate cake and (AU$15). They’re all rich, the cake giving the most teeth-sticking pleasure, but the chocolate sorbet is my favourite.
Dinner at Kuza won’t provide comfort like a big bowl of teriyaki chicken donburi. If you arrive with a roaring appetite you may get irritated by the delicate shared pickings, though our dishes did arrive/get cleared very efficiently. It’s also not a cheap feed, but worthy of consideration if you’re after something interesting and imaginative or a little fancy-pants for date night. But a hot tip if you’re planning to get romantic: don’t eat the red onion.
Kuza Urban Japanese Food
393 Albany Highway,
Victoria Park, WA 6100
Telephone: (08) 9361 8888