152 Lygon Street
Brunswick East VIC 3057
+61 3 9388 1505
Dave and I usually have our post-work dinner sessions in the city but one Wednesday night, we thought it would be nice to get out of 3000 for once. On that night, we decided to tram up Lygon Street to try the hippest izakaya in East Brunswick, Kumo Izakaya.
Kumo used to be a bank and its sandstone exterior still screams out ‘inner city wog.’ Walk in, however, and you will be transported to sleek, sleek Kyoto.
There is a communal table in the middle that sits 26 and booths scatted all over. There is an eight metre long bar for those wishing to be perched high up, while a small handful of tiny tables are set aside for those who don’t wish to dine on the wild side (i.e. us).
All the pretty saké bottles were tempting us. Kumo has an impressive list of eighty or so saké brands, including a $330 bottle of Yuki no Bosha. You can order one bottle to share (or have on your own), or do a saké-matching degustation.
So we caved in by ordering a bottle of Hakutsuru Tanrei (180ml for $14.50) to share. Made with the finest rice and pure natural spring water from Mount Rokko, this semi-dry saké was smooth all the way through, punctuated with sweet melon notes. This would have been the perfect saké if you were to order a number of salty dishes.
I ordered the Ikebana cocktail ($17), a fruity mix containing West Winds gin, Kumo ‘Honeydew’ shochu, lemon juice, elderflower and basil, finished off with a dash of Free Brothers peach bitters. Nice enough. Meanwhile, Dave went for the Kinshachi Akamiso lager ($16). Hailing from Nagoya, this beer is special because it’s made with soy bean miso before being mixed with malt and hops. This gives this beer its distinctive slightly salty taste. I had to LOL when Dave said that it tasted like ‘Guinness with a little Vegemite.’
At Kumo, you know you’re in good hands when the two head chefs (yes, two!) have boasted careers in acclaimed eateries such as Yu-U, Bar Lourinha and the Royal George. Head chefs Iguchi and Hamabe created a menu that neatly divides Kumo’s dishes into neat boundaries, from steamed options to sashimi options and of course, fried options for izakaya purists. For indecisive (and hungry) diners, the omakase is there for $75 a head, which includes dessert. Dave and I, however, decided to choose our own dishes.
Sorry, I couldn’t help but giggle at this. While I appreciate Kumo making an effort to warn those with allergies, I’m pretty sure that not even an idiot would NOT realise that kingfish ‘contains seafood.’
We started off with a small plate of sashimi moriawase to share. For $18.80, we got six pieces of some of the freshest kingfish and salmon we had in a long time. While we enjoyed the slices fresh, a dab of wasabi and some shredded daikon was there if you were looking for something to dress the raw fish up.
We kept things raw with the tuna yukke with onsen-poached quail egg in a crunchy cup ($16.80).
Dave and I really loved this dish. We were instructed to break open the barely-poached quail egg and mix the yolk with the little bits of yellowfin tuna. The marinade was beautiful, with the lovely soy and sesame flavours shining through. To some, though, it may have been a bit too dense for it did drown out the natural flavours of the super-fresh tuna. Not for us. We also loved the ‘crunchy cup’ which was essentially a filo pastry-like base which we broke into shreds, using it as a chip to dip into the raw tuna.
The next dish was one of that night’s specials and thus, doesn’t appear on the regular menu. The sea urchin sashimi and ponzu mousse wrapped in kingfish ($15.80) was a bit of a novelty item and not really something I’d be rushing to order. I was amused to see that the menu did not mention the block of tofu, which happened to be the very ingredient that was wrapped in the kingfish, while the sea urchin ‘sashimi’ was essentially just sea urchin roe on top of the whole thing. Sure, everything was fresh but it just didn’t tickle my fancy.
Things veered into heavier territory with the udon salad ($12.80). Dave and I have never had udon served as a cold salad so we were curious to see how this was going to work. We were amazed to find that the result was a delicious blend of chewy and carb-y goodness tossed in a creamy sesame sauce and azuki beans to boot. I’ll definitely be making this one at home!
The seared scallops were the first of our hot dishes to arrive. They normally came in threes and for $12.80 but the helpful waiter said that he can give us an extra scallop for an extra $4.80 to save us squabbling over the last one – that sounded good to us. The scallops were lightly seared so that they remained super juicy in the middle. They were drizzled with a pleasantly light soy and butter sauce and topped with bonito flakes. Decent.
Next, we had the ‘king prawn fry’ wrapped in potato with green tea salt ($16.80). I’m not sure if it was just me, but I did find the price of two king prawns wrapped in a dense potato coating a little bit steep. They were great but not special – I did find the potato coating a bit thick and the prawns a bit on the anorexic side. I did, however, reckon the green tea salt that accompanied the prawns was a nice touch.
We then had one of the few items off the ‘steamed’ menu, a chawanmushi (Japanese savoury egg custard, $10.80). Kumo’s version comes with chestnuts and is flavoured with shiso butter and soy, giving the whole thing a lovely silky, buttery texture.
We liked the sound of the ‘crispy potato ball with octopus topped with BBQ sauce, mayo and bonito flake’ ($13.80) so much that it didn’t even cross our minds that this dish was actually the humble Osaka street food commonly known as the takoyaki. Never mind. I like takoyaki more than I like the fail photo above but for some reason, I thought this version was pretty average. Maybe it was all the BBQ sauce instead of the traditional Worcestershire-like sauce that didn’t do it for me.
Finally, it was time for dessert. Dave ordered the decidedly exotic-sounding kokuto kumo ($12.80), which was advertised as a ‘black sugar umeshu dessert’ but was a bit disappointed when he received what merely looked like an ice cream in a cocktail glass. It wasn’t a bad-tasting dessert but the vanilla ice cream (as opposed to the traditional brown sugar ice cream) was a bit, well, vanilla. The entire thing didn’t really excite us either and we couldn’t even taste the umeshu.
I fared a bit better with the Houji tea brownie with black sugar ice cream ($12.80). Houjicha is a Japanese green tea that’s been roasted over charcoal, thus giving it a woody flavour. This was evident in the delicious brownie I had, which wasn’t overly sweet either (sadly, I couldn’t say the same for the black sugar ice cream).
The bill was almost $200 but we received a sweet $58.89 off thanks to the Agenda 30% discount (if you book online beforehand and secure the booking with a $10 deposit). There may have been a few dishes that missed the mark but overall, the food at Kumo was pretty solid. I liked the restaurant’s concept and I like that they try to create twists on traditional Japanese classics. However, I personally think that some dishes such as the chawanmushi and takoyaki should be left untouched unless you know that the end result is going to be WOW.
I also thought that Kumo reminded me of Akachochin what with the whole saké thang going on, similar menu offerings (not the exact same dishes, of course, but sufficiently similar) and super-friendly staff. While Kumo was great, I did think it was missing the shine that Akachochin has – presumably something to do with Paul Mathis, no? Regardless, I still think that Kumo is still finding its feet and hopefully it won’t be long until it gets up there with Akachochin, Izakaya Den and the like.