Kagura, New Japanese Izakaya in Surry Hills

Bars, Drink, Eat, Restaurants, Sydney / 16 September 2015

Almost 1000 beautiful origami cranes hang from the ceiling, alongside mismatched lights and Japanese masks at Kagura, a new Izakaya located on Forveaux Street in Surry Hills. Take a seat at the up-cycled door which serves as the bar top and gaze upon the ever-growing collection of Japanese inspired chalk drawings covering the walls. A striking Hannya mask is printed above the bar, peering down on us. It’s safe to say Kagura is full of some very random assorted objects but don’t be fooled by this casual interior, fine dining Japanese cuisine awaits.
It’s an eclectic fit out that feels unfinished. But it all makes sense when co-owner Flynn McLennan (previously of Zeta Bar and Uncle Mings) shares the story of Kagura. Together with his business partner and Japanese born chef Yoshinobu Harada, they have opened their dream bar on a shoe-string budget. They’ve poured every cent of their life savings into the place with the main focus on delivering quality food and drinks.
The food at Kagura is really where this venue shines. In true Japanese custom, you’ll be handed an oshibori (warm, wet hand towel) to refresh before your meal. Many boast about Kagura’s chicken karaage, with good reason. But there is much more to this Izakaya. With my Gluten Free Friend in mind, we let the chef surprise us with an array of dishes- sans soy sauce.
The Black Tiger prawns in tom yum sauce with baby coriander and beetroot relish are a good start before Chawanmushi, a savoury egg custard that arrives in a small black bowl. The flavours inside are beyond delicate. Crack the top with your spoon and taste the silky custard that dissolves instantly in your mouth. The custard is filled with mussels, prawns, mushroom, caviar and ginkgo nuts- it’s a must-try.
Let Flynn suggest some Japanese Whiskey, high grade sake or a cocktail. His love of all these Japanese is contagious. You could easily sit at the bar for hours while he educates you on Japanese whiskies, Japanese customs and Japanese cinema. We opt for a bottle of warm sake to compliment our dishes.
Whilst a lot of dishes are quite traditional, Kagura also brings a few modern twists to the traditional Izakaya style with cured meats infused with spirits. The tequila and herb house-cured wagyu beef, arrives on a plate with several delicate slices topped with fresh herbs. It pairs perfectly with the sake and showcases delicious Japanese Wagyu beef.
Considering how small this bar is, the quality of the food is very impressive. Yoshinobu works on just a small grill at the front of the bar, a fridge as a makeshift bench and a fryer. From your seat at the bar you can see your drinks and dishes being prepared.
They have also created their own in-house smoking box, which is used most notably in the maple smoked scallops with whisky aroma, accompanied with pomegranate and caviar. A Bruichladdich Octomore Scotch is used and infuses the scallops with subtle flavours of barley. They also smoke a lot of their cocktails, primarily for flavour… with a side of theatrics.
Enjoy a generous serve of salmon carpaccio in white-balsamic, yuzu and fresh dill, which has a delicate flavour having only been lightly cured. There is plenty to share with a friend or enough to keep you going solo all night with a few whiskys.
Last but not least, the Garfish sashimi arrives, served with yuzu ponzu. Aesthetically, this is the most interesting dish of our evening. The garfish fillets are finely sliced and rearranged back on the fish, which is presented whole to the customer.
Having just been granted their liquor license, Kagura are serving an array of cocktails, many named after Japanese films. Their Rum and Plum blazer is a show stopper, where the rum is poured back and forth to create a punchy and flavoursome glass of rum. If you love drinks with a kick, try the Youth of The Beast, which features house-made chipotle chilli liquor, tangerine bitters, tequila and smoked with maple woods. Or the Le Samouraï, a yuzu and wasabi foam mix atop of a cucumber concoction.
The casual vibe in Kagura might dishearten a few, but let yourself be surprised by the high standard of fine dining Japanese cuisine and collection of traditional spirits.
You can also try their Smokey Sundays a celebration of all things smoked from 12-6pm.
84 Foveaux Street, Surry Hills
Reservations recommended as there is limited seating: 9212 1981
Open: Tues – Sat midday – 3pm; 6pm – 11pm and Sun midday – 6pm
Kagura Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato