There are more Japanese restaurants in Sydney than you can poke a chopstick at, but newcomer Kid Kyoto stands out from the crowd. Set against the backdrop of the alternative music scene of the 90s — with a generous dash of the 80s — this place is making its own rules and turning up the volume.
The Bridge Street venue is the third CBD offering from the culinary guns behind Indu and Méjico, the Sam Prince Hospitality Group. True to form, it's ambitious in both scale and execution. This time around music — grunge, specifically (and lots of Nirvana) — is the headliner. It may not be the conventional way to approach a restaurant but owner Sam Prince is excited by the direction they're taking. "We're not just flirting with the idea of being music-led — it permeates through everything. I want diners to experience the songs and the lyrics almost as ingredients they're eating."
Fine tuning this music-led concept into reality might be a stretch for most but not head chef, Seb Gee. You could say his partnering on Kid Kyoto was serendipitous — fate even — given Gee was listening to Rage Against the Machine as he made his way to his trial. "I'm a child of the '90s so when Sam told me the idea for the restaurant, I was like, 'done — that's perfect'."
Gee worked with his team of chefs to develop a menu that pays homage to classic Japanese flavours while toying with surprising ingredients and textures. "People aren't going to be getting the usual takes, like sushi, sashimi," he says. A lot of time was spent looking at the fundamentals of Japanese cuisine before "flipping it on its side". Gee describes the cooking at Kid Kyoto as "Japanese with a sprinkle of Nine Inch Nails on top". This rock 'n' roll approach comes through in Black Hole Sun, a dish of slow-cooked pork belly with nori jam, apple and pickled radish.
There's a strong seafood bent too, raw dishes like smoking salmon sashimi and cold squid 'udon' salad pique the taste buds. Meanwhile, the Cloudy Bay clams with bonito schmaltz and roast tomato miso is a nod to Gee's New Zealand and Jewish heritage.
To quench your thirst there's a selection of sakes and Japanese whiskeys fit for an emperor. For those more cocktail inclined, the folks from Archie Rose have teamed with Kid Kyoto to develop a bespoke gin, which combines with Noilly Prat and junmai daiginjo sake in the Kid Kyo-tini. The Ama-tonic is a magic muddle of shiso sake, yuzu marmalade and a house-made cherry tonic.
The nostalgia extends to the building itself, a heritage-listed site that backs onto the cobbled Bridge Lane in the city. The design evokes a slightly moody izakaya, stripped back walls contrast with hits of neon and burnished Japanese timber.
For a closer look inside, check out our long-form feature on Kid Kyoto.
Images: Letícia Almeida.