Initially travelling to Japan to train in mixed martial arts, barman extraordinaire Flynn McLennan soon developed a love for the izakaya, a tiny, particularly Japanese type of establishment where food, drink and a defiantly low-key brand of excellence are all equally important.
Having formerly slung cocktails at Zeta Bar and Uncle Ming's, he has teamed up with chef (and fellow MMA lifer) Yoshinobu Harada to make this passion project on a shoestring budget. Like many izakayas, it's a small space put to ingenious use, though it goes beyond being a simple homage and becomes its own inspired beast.
The menu covers classic snacks like an ox tongue skewer ($6) and the ubiquitous izakaya staple, fried chicken karaage ($14), exquisitely done here. The new spring selection includes a delicate prawn and savoury custard dish, a kind of modern twist on daggy but delicious prawn cocktail, as well as carry-overs from the previous menu, like herb and parmesan crumbed broccoli ($8), which are fresh and moreish.
There's an emphasis on curing and smoking, and two delectable examples are the tequila cured wagyu beef ($20), which comes on a plate of contrasting nashi pear, and whisky smoked scallops ($14), presented in a dome of billowing smoke and scattered with roe and pomegranate seeds. Pair it with the cocktail Smoke and Honey, which combines Pedro Ximenez, burnt orange peel and Octomore (the world's peatiest whisky) for a celebration of all things smoky.
The ideal way to experience Kagura is to grab a seat at the bar, and have the gregarious McLennan guide you through the cocktails. It could become addictive though; some of the current bar staff were customers at his former haunts who became such regulars they inevitably joined the staff. It's easy to see why, with winsome drinks like the Le Samourai ($19), a two-tiered concoction with a generous whip of wasabi foam; the Shichimi 75 ($17), with its yuzu and gin combination; and an as yet unnamed drink starring Japanese whisky, egg white, yuzu, blood orange and coconut shrub, topped with a touch of wine. It's a marvel of balance.
The place has a real homespun feel, with the bar being an old door, and tables that were made by mates and propped up with milk crates. Constellations of origami cranes bring some colour to the space, as does the artwork on the back wall, which was done by McLennan's girlfriend, who works as an art therapist.
There are even some off-menu treats like a Yuzu Gimlet, though you can't go wrong by finishing with the Rum & Plum Blazer ($20), which is just spectacular, from its flame-happy preparation to the gorgeous Christmas pudding notes. If you're still not sold, consider the impressive array of rare whiskies on offer, or try their wares by dropping by for one of their smokehouse Sunday sessions.