Friday, October 5, 2012

Scoping something new - Kaya

Last week I scored an invite to try out Kaya - a new Izakaya Japanese restaurant/bar thanks to my talented graphic designer husband who created the artwork and logo for this new Oxford Street restaurant. The owners invited us as a thank you for the work that Andrew had done for them, and also to road test some of their dishes. Izakaya refers to a Japanese drinking establishment that also serves food. In Japan these types of eateries are most often frequented by people after work , serving drinks and food that is designed to be shared. Sort of a Japanese take on  the Spanish tapas concept.

Kaya has a large open kitchen, which lets you get close to the cooking action - something I always love. The small room had a nice intimate vibe, with lots of wood, textured walls and a warm, soft  yellow lighting arrangement that feels a million miles away from the tired, trash fest that is Oxford Street these days.

The Dining Room @ Kaya

We kicked off things with a Rhubarba - a delicious sake and vodka based rhubarb cocktail which was one of the nicest cocktails I've had.  The really fabulous flavour comes from a house made roasted rhubarb puree which makes you wish they served the stuff in a jug instead of a glass!

Being a sharing menu, we got to sample about 10 different dishes over the course of the evening and I will be sharing some of the highlights with you. We started with a serve of the ultimate Japanese comfort food, Okonomiyaki. Until now, I have only ever eaten the octopus version of this - which I adore, but this one was made with pork which worked really beautifully. I love the very savoury nature of Okonomiyaki, and this one was full of flavour. The traditional topping of sticky sauce and shaved bonito is an addictive combination.

Pork Okonomiyaki

For something with a lighter, fresher taste you can't go past the Sake steamed clams. The clams were plump and moist and cooked just right, and the delicious sauce had us wanting to lick the plate. The only down side to this dish was that there was nothing to mop up the rest of the sauce with so a lot of it was wasted.

Steamed Clams with Sake

A fried cuttlefish dish, with a punchy kick of chilli and salt was the perfect thing to accompany a second cocktail. A moreish, Kaya take on salt and pepper squid.

Fried Cuttlefish with Chilli and Salt

A super fresh, simple plate of sashimi followed, served with shredded daikon radish, wasabi and seaweed. The fish was succulent and clean tasting and beautifully prepared.

Kaya Sashimi

Kaya's version of Chicken Karaage - Japanese style fried chicken - was one of the dishes of the night, and the one that I think is destined to be one of their most popular. Super crispy, perfectly seasoned and moist and delicious in the centre, this chicken is seriously good. Served simply with Japanese mayo, it is a winner. One of the great things about it was the complete lack of oiliness in the chicken, even though it had been fried. Just so pleasant to eat. I think next time we visit we will be ordering a plate each!

Chicken Karaage

Pork belly is always a favourite, and Yakitori with pork belly, radish and spring onion was full of flavour and so, so moist it just fell off the skewer. I felt that the pork belly was just a tad too fatty, although it gets full marks for flavour. The pork had that great charcoal grill taste that you want in Yakitori.

Pork Yakitori

My favourite seafood is scallops, so I couldn't go past these dressed and roasted scallops on the shell. The scallops were plump and moist and cooked beautifully. So many places overcook them, and these were treated right. I would have liked a little more sauce, but apart from that - yum!

Roasted Scallops on the Shell

A hearty dish of grain fed beef on the rib, served with spinach satisfies the biggest carnivore. The dish is listed on the menu as being for two - it is huge, so we happily divided it between four. The meat is slow cooked, meltingly tender and the flavour was amazing.

Grain Fed Beef Rib
with Spinach

I really enjoyed my first excursion to Kaya. The thing that really stood out for me was that every dish possessed flavour in abundance. When you are tasting a number of dishes and only eating a few bites of each, it is important that you get the whole flavour and texture experience. It is not like eating a full plate of the same thing and tasting the dish "developing" as you work your way through it. First impressions count here. That is a rule I always apply when making canapes or any kind of smaller, shared dish - amp up everything flavour wise because your guests are potentially only getting one bite to experience it. Make it a good bite.

I got a chance to chat with some of the staff and found the service very good. Dishes also arrive quite fast. I was told that that the menu would have new items on an almost daily basis, depending on what produce was available and at it's best that day. A great  philospohy to have, and a way to keep things interesting for regular diners.

I think Kaya is a great addition to the Oxford Street strip, and we agreed that we would definitely head back there to try the other items on the menu - need to get some more of that Chicken Karaage and those divine Rhubarba cocktails!

Kaya Sydney
96 Oxford Street Darlinghurst
Ph:8354 0057

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