It seems that no conversation about Kings Cross these days is complete without debating the merits of the much-maligned lockout laws and lamenting the loss of iconic venues such as Hugo’s and Trademark. As a young man, I only had the pleasure of going out in ‘The Cross’ a few times, so I don’t have too many nostalgic memories about the place (nor too many memories about it full stop, mind you!); but it’s easy to see that it’s nothing like the glory days of old.
Naturally, thoughts then turn to what the coming years might hold for the area. Given its prime location, it would seem unlikely for it to just remain on its current course and gradually start fading away. There are talks of it turning into a mini-Manhattan with some newer, high-rise residential complexes, and there's a good chance of it following in Surry Hills' footsteps and being revitalised by good cafes, bars and restaurants (which of course, already exist in the area).
Either way, Llankelly Place, which splits off Darlinghurst Road and joins Orwell Street, might serve as a good blueprint for the future. Along the length of the pedestrian-only laneway, which was originally opened up on a trial basis in 2014, sits a variety of chic-looking restaurants and eateries, with plenty of outdoor seating and a vibrant yet relaxed vibe.
At the Darlinghurst Road end of Llankelly Place is Osaka Bar, which opened in mid-2015. Its owner, Chef Kazu, has lived in Sydney for the last 20 years, and this is his first venue as both chef and restauranteur. After learning his trade in fine dining establishments in Japan, his first job in Sydney was at the popular Masuya restaurant, and from there he's headed up kitchens at various Japanese places around the city.
With Osaka Bar, Chef Kazu is going back to his roots and cooking the food that he grew up with and loves; so his menu, unsurprisingly, is dedicated to Osaka’s famed street food. If you’ve walked (and eaten) your way along Dotonbori, Osaka’s pedestrian-only thoroughfare for street food, you’ll no doubt be familiar with the impressive skills of the takoyaki (octopus ball) cooks and the enticing sizzle of okonomiyaki on the griddle. These feature in the 'Osaka Soul Foods' part of the menu alongside a few other local favourites, with the other nod to Osaka being the selection of kushi-katsu (think crumbed and fried pieces of meat, fish and vegetables on a stick).
The right hand side of the menu contains more general Japanese favourites such as gyoza, agedashi tofu, beef tataki and tempura, with a few unique dishes mixed in such as the salmon, scallop and broccoli gratin and grilled lamb rack with spicy cod roe and black pepper sauce.
Drinks-wise, there's Japanese beers, whiskeys and cocktails to choose from, along with an extensive sake menu that gives sake novices (like me) a real helping hand by providing information on each sake like the region it comes from, its flavour profile, and importantly – whether it’s best enjoyed cold, warm, or at room temperature.
We start off with a serve of takoyaki ($9), served in a paper boat just like you’d get over in Japan, and drizzled with Japanese mayonnaise and a tonkatsu-style sauce (which Chef Kazu makes from scratch using a well-guarded family recipe). If you're not familiar with takoyaki, the textures can be a bit awkward to start with - the outside is nice and crispy as you'd expect, but once you bite in, the takoyaki deflates like a flat tyre to reveal the purposely undercooked, slightly gooey batter on the inside, which also holds a few chunks of tender-yet-slightly-chewy octopus. It sounds strange, but trust me - it's absolutely delicious, and Osaka Bar's version ticks all the boxes.
The dote-kushi ($5.50, 2 skewers) comes highly recommended from a friend, and it’s easy to see why. The dish features skewers of oh-so-tender chunks of beef tendon sitting in a shallow bath of sweet miso broth, which acts as a clean yet umami-packed background for the beef. My only regret was not asking for a bowl of white rice to soak up the rest of the broth with!
There’s not much else that screams ‘street food’ than deep fried food on sticks, and Osaka’s version of this is called kushi-katsu. We order a few different types to try - lotus root ($2.50), camembert cheese ($5), potato croquette ($2.50) and beef mince ($2.50) – all of which are coated with a crunchy, golden crumb and pair well with the accompanying sauce (also made in-house). I’d easily order any of them again, but my pick of bunch is the camembert one – I mean, how can you go past molten, oozy cheese?!
Next out is the tonpei-yaki ($9.50), which is an Osaka-style pork omelette. The omelette has a bit of flour-based batter mixed in to it, which takes it closer into pancake territory rather than being overly eggy. Nevertheless, the omelette is soft and velvety smooth, and it houses the lean strips of pork well.
It's no secret that okonomiyaki is one of my favourite comfort foods. It has everything going for it - it's simple and rustic, doesn't require a recipe (other than the base ingredients of flour, eggs, dashi and cabbage, you can put whatever you have on hand in it!), and it just tastes so damn good. Osaka Bar's pork and seafood okonomiyaki ($12) is an enjoyable rendition - not too thick and with great flavours, particularly with the sprinkle of katsuobushi, seaweed and spring onion on top.
The Grilled Duck Confit ($18.50) is Chef Kazu’s signature dish, and even though it’s a bit of a detour from the food of Osaka, it’s a must-order. Slices of confit duck breast are cooked at 65 degrees to tender perfection, then quickly grilled to give the skin and thin layer of fat a deliciously crispy finish. Chef Kazu gives the accompanying sauces a playful twist, pairing a sweet blueberry miso with honeyed American mustard. It’s not traditional Japanese fare in any sense, but it works.
Osaka Bar has a lot going for it, and I think it provides a beacon of hope for the future of Kings Cross. Even though the food lends itself to a casual dining experience, the quality is right up there and points to Chef Kazu's experience in fine dining establishments. The venue is funky and modern, much like Osaka itself, and you can tell that there's bit of thought put into the presentation of the dishes (you'd probably agree that serving food on boards is now a bit passé, but I haven't seen it before with Japanese food and I think it works really well with the kushi-katsu and smaller grilled dishes here). On a warm summer's night, with a glass of Japanese draught beer in one hand and a stick of kushi-katsu in the other, you can't wrong!
Shop 15, Llankelly Place, 24-30 Springfield Ave, Potts Point NSW
(02) 8970 1143
Lunch Fri-Sun 12-3pm; Dinner Mon-Sun 6-11pm