Review: Kid Kyoto dishes up rich modern Japanese flavours with a killer soundtrack

The entrance to Kid Kyoto should be on busy Bridge Street, but the logical way into the modern Japanese restaurant is shut. Instead you get signage gently redirecting you to Bridge Lane, where the real entrance to Kid Kyoto lies, almost opposite to dumpling favourite Mr Wong. There’s a reason for this, and the many other idiosyncrasies that pack Dr Sam Prince’s newest restaurant with a punchy and distinctive personality: it’s all themed towards your traditional izakaya, inspired by the neighbourly drinking dens found all throughout Japan where entrances are often obscured and seemingly drab locations give way to lively, affable atmospheres.

Throw in a little (no, a lot) of 90’s alternative rock as an anchor theme and you have an interesting if not slightly odd addition to Prince’s small but respectable portfolio, which includes Sydney restaurants INDU and Mejico as well as causal Mexican chain Zambrero. This feels like a much more realised concept than the others though; borrowing just enough grit from its grungy soundtrack and clashing that against a modern neon-lit space that’s still dark and moody enough to make those izakaya inspirations more than just empty promises.

If INDU is big on The Beatles and The Rolling Stones then Kid Kyoto rocks with Nirvana and Jane’s Addiction (I heard two or three different “Jane Says” mash-ups during my dinner). Even Radiohead was playing at a moderate volume as I walked through the entrance, made to slightly resemble the Torii gates of Japan. Prince treads dangerously close to gimmick territory here, when you open up the menu and find the sections divided into Intro, Raw and Unplugged, Main Stage, B-Sides and Encore. A bit silly, but playful nonetheless – at least it’s not another “hip hop themed” burger joint.

The music furthers the attempt at recreating the atmosphere of an izakaya, but in order to fully commit to the style, the volume would have to be higher and the lights would have to be turned down much lower. Instead, take this as a modern half-homage, playing it relatively safe for the Sydney socialites while still maintaining enough difference to realise Prince’s vision.

As for the food: the talented Seb Gee (ex-China Diner) leads the kitchen through some favourites inspired by izakaya dishes with a bit more generosity.

The Crab Stix ($8) on senbei rice crackers with kobu, spanner crab floss and old bay are instantly forgettable but other picks from the “Intro” hit rather well. A tender Preserved Lemon Chicken Tsukune ($16) is almost too pretty to eat with a creamy onsen egg and chilli rayu sitting in a nest of fried leeks, but it’ll have you cleaning your plate in no time. Similar things can be said for the Pork Yakiton ($12) with quandong and karashi or, from the “raw and unplugged” section, the beautiful Smoking Salmon Sashimi ($24) with wasabi pea and nori. Though, the most valuable support act and one to really get the crowd going would be the Beef Tartare ($16) served ‘teriyaki flavour’ with nashi pear and whipped katsuobushi; the creamy and incredibly rich blend comes with four large shiso leaves should diners wish to spoon the mixture on and roll up a leaf. Pair that one up with a nice and clean Inn Bloom ($20), the best thing on the cocktail menu with Beefeater gin and Toji sake balanced with grapfruit, yuzu, strawberry and thyme shrub.

Over on the main stage there are seven options are sounding rather tempting, but a wise choice would be to land straight on the “Black Hole Sun” Pork Belly ($30). The dish, obviously named for the immortal Soundgarden classic, is perfect for bigger groups looking to share, seeing as the dish is basically just large two-bite-size chunks of soft and sweet pork belly, the flavour bolstered by rich nori jam, apple and pickled radish. The pork belly is so addictive that I would advise getting two plates for the table, in addition to a bunch of sides, the biggest of which is the salty Chahan Fried Rice ($18) of corn, nori and fish.

The “Encore” is of course dessert, with three very different options all priced at $16. Summery long lunches probably call for the Calpis Granita or the Toasted Yuzu Meringue Tart, but those who like to indulge would be wise to go for the Chocolate Fondant with caramelised miso, chocolate crackle, kinako and coconut ice cream. Sure, it’s an intensely rich way to cap off the meal, but the many different textures work remarkably well together.

It’s not exactly “all killer, no filler” at Kid Kyoto, but there’s enough here to push it as one of 2017’s best new restaurants. Make sure you’re going for those delicious caramelised chunks of pork belly, the smoking salmon sashimi, and the chocolate fondant, as well as the respectable cocktail list and it’ll be hard not to put this on your list of regular haunts.

Kid Kyoto

Address: 17-19 Bridge Street (entry via Bridge Lane) Sydney CBD
Contact: 02 9241 1991
Website: https://kidkyoto.com.au
Hours: Mon-Fri 12pm-late; Sat 5pm-late

All images supplied and credited to Guy Davies.