The smell wafts out onto Oxford Street and hits us before we even enter the front door. If I hadn’t already booked a table at Kaya, I would have ditched my original plans and made a reservation here. “It’s the robata,” explains Tim Lackey, Kaya’s energetic co-owner who greets us at the door, “It’s seriously amazing.” Suddenly, we’re ravenous.
Once home to the darling of Darlinghurst, Rambutan, Kaya’s interior has been designed by the visionary team, Splinter Society. Kaya’s dining room draws inspiration from traditional Japanese izakaya bars, whilst utilising Australian materials such as cypress pine from the Dandenong Ranges to create a dynamic space that incorporates high and low-tech features from sound-proof walls to manga graffiti.
Straying away from your standard sushi and sashimi Japanese offering, the menu at Kaya stays true to the traditional notion of “izakaya” dining —that is, a series of small dishes designed to share while you drink. With the seductive smell wafting around the restaurant, robata dishes are our main priority… that is, until we see the venison tataki and sashimi don on the table next to us. We start with the rice wine and seaweed cured kingfish and ocean trout, sweet shell-grilled scallops doused in a zingy citrus ponzu and miso eggplant.
Being don-devotees, we can’t resist ordering both the sashimi and chicken yakitori options. At that point, the shell grilled scallops and venison were competing for the title as ‘favourite dish’. That was until the (take a deep breath for this) 600 gram, 24 hour slow cooked, glazed wagyu rib arrived in front of us. The race was over, a winner was declared.
“It’s a Friday night – of course you’ve got to have a cocktail!” I have to admit, it doesn’t take long for my efficient waiter to convince me to order the green appletini and as soon as I take a sip of smooth combination of freshly squeezed Granny Smith apple, vodka, lime and sugar, I’m in a picture of satisfaction.
From the moment we smelled the robata grill to that first mouthful of venison tataki – we were hooked. There isn’t much that falls short of amazing at Kaya.