Kaiza Izakaya is a new Japanese Izakaya located on Enmore Road. The menu a modern Japanese dishes with their takes on sashimi tartare, lamb cutlets and beef katsu. Plus their popular signature item: a wagyu beef nigiri with crispy rice!
Kaiza is located opposite the Enmore Theatre and it is a long restaurant with a couple of outdoor tables. You walk in past the chefs working in the small, open kitchen in the front room and there are a further two dining rooms with lots of booth tables. We are seated in the furthest back room. It's freezing cold this winter's evening and the back room is toasty warm with paper fans and lanterns, a faux log heater and dozens of scented candles. The chef is Jason Nguyen formerly of Chuuka in Pyrmont.
Izakayas in Japan are convivial, casual places for socialising and drinking where business and personal relationships are forged over tasty, simple morsels with drinks. When I lived in Japan I'd go to an izakaya at least twice a week. Kaiza isn't like a typical Japanese izakaya as the food is more upmarket.
Kaiza doesn't yet have a license so it is free BYO for the time being. Monica and I are positively starving so when Mr NQN and Marco go to PNV Merchants to get something to drink, Monica and I order. "If the food comes, we're eating," she warns him half joking but not joking at all. "I need to blow this candle out," I say as the aroma of the candle starts to give me a headache.
Wagyu Nigiri $7 each
First up is the wagyu nigiri: even though Kaiza is new, the beef nigiri has already become a fast favourite here. It's a ball of crispy rice wrapped in wagyu beef with kizami wasabi (soy sauce wasabi) and cured egg yolk grated on top. The beef is char grilled until mouth watering and it is a very satisfying mouthful. You definitely want to order at least one of these per person.
Hiramasa Kingfish $22
The Hiramasa kingfish is just about everyone's favourite dish. It's half a dozen slices of raw kingfish with yuzu shiro soy, shallot, coriander and chilli oil. It's has a perfect balance of flavours and I wish we had ordered two serves of this. "I want to drink that sauce," says Monica, her eyes shining. "Definitely," I say taking the bowl and taking a sip from it and then passing it to her. And you know that you're with good friends when everyone passes the bowl around and sips from it.
Sashimi Tartare $20
Izakaya food is meant to be shared-it's part of the bonding experience but this is definitely not a sharing sized portion. It's salmon sashimi tartare with apricot yuzu, fried wonton skin, dill and avocado. Also I think it's nice when the restaurant sees that there are four people and give you four won ton skins because three is just not ideal for sharing unless you're happy with a single mouthful.
Tori Karaage $19
Is chicken karaage a basic b^& sort of dish? If so then I'm basic as I always have to order a serve of this if I see it on the menu. It looks rather different from the pic on their Instagram. The chicken here is paler (but that just means fresh oil) but it's also less plentiful and we can't help but worry we haven't ordered enough. It comes with chilli mayo but these are separated so you basically mix up your own.
Raw Wagyu Flap 5+ $21
The raw wagyu flap isn't really raw it's seared which Monica is a bit disappointed about because she loves raw food. Still, it's absolutely delicious and tender with tataki sauce, shallots and tiny garlic chips. We save the sauce to have on our rice.
Fried Cauliflower $19
While some say the food here is a fusion of Japanese and Vietnamese (and it isn't really, it's probably just because the chef is Vietnamese) this dish is more Chinese with battered cauliflower, a spicy kung pao laze, cashew nuts and green onion with sesame. The sauce one of those tasty, sweet Chinese sauces and as Marco points out, this is vegetarian but could fool practically anyone as it could be chicken.
There's a bit of a lag as the whole back room fills up all of a sudden and everyone gets their orders in. And even though the restaurant is heaving with people, the waitstaff are still friendly and helpful (when you manage to flag them down). We're still peckish as the entrees didn't quite hit the sides.
Grilled Lamb Cutlet $22
This was another recommendation from our waiter and it's two juicy lamb cutlets with garlic yuzu kosho, yuzu miso and negi or green spring onion relish. The cutlets are finger licking good and don't even need the relish but it helps to break up the richness of the lamb.
Crispy Eggplant $18
The crispy eggplant has a rich, intense flavour from the black miso while the puffed rice and furikake give it texture. It's very nice but this is a tiny serve with mini batons of eggplant.
Beef Katsu $32
While you see a lot of chicken katsu on menus, we are drawn to the beef katsu with a crunchy crumbed beef fillet, sliced up and accompanied byu a spicy tamarind sauce and AOSA nori (sea lettuce, a milder version of aonori). I actually prefer this with mayonnaise as the tamarind sauce is a bit too sweet for me.
Fried Rice $30.00
We also really enjoy the fried rice with plenty of blue simmer crab, gailan, edamame, corn, prawn floss and chives. We like the generous amount of blue swimmer crab that is the predominant flavour here.
Choco Banana Spring Roll $15
There are two desserts on the menu. The first is a chocolate banana spring roll. There are two to a serve and are served with passion fruit gel on top, walnuts on the side and a black sesame ice cream. The spring rolls don't really taste like banana at all, they just taste like chocolate to us and the black sesame ice cream could use a bit more flavour to it.
Yuzu Panna Cotta $16
We all prefer the yuzu panna cotta chocolate soil and fruit salad on top. There's also said to be apple popping there but I don't get any nor does it need it. This is a perfectly balanced dessert with sweet, fresh fruit on top.
While we loved the food, by now we're all still a bit hungry and there is talk of getting a kebab which I seriously entertain!
So tell me Dear Reader, do scented candles give you a headache? And when is the last time you've gone out for something to eat after a meal?
This meal was independently paid for.
95 Enmore Rd, Newtown NSW 2042
Tuesday & Wednesday 5–9:30pm
Thursday to Saturday 12–10pm
Phone: 0401 466 515