Kumo Izakaya, Brunswick East

During this period of social distancing, I will be reviewing restaurants I visited way back when but who are still doing pickup and/or delivery during this time. Please support them by ordering whatever you can from them – whether it’s food, merch or fresh produce – to help them stay afloat in these difficult times.

Where: Kumo Izakaya, 152 Lygon Street Brunswick East

What: Simultaneously fancy and comforting Japanese food

Who: Max-Two-Legs-Animal Eater

Bloat score: 2 – The belt had to be completely removed

I remember I visited Kumo Izakaya in the depths of winter because I walked there from home and I had to garb myself in a scarf and beanie – something I only ever do if I’m engaging in some serious protracted winter walking. Which means I visited almost 10 months ago! With my usual frenetic eating out schedule, I’m always visiting new places that take precedence over the older ones but with the social lockdown, I’ve enjoyed revisiting some of my favourites, of which Kumo Izakaya is definitely one.

Perched on the quiet end of the quiet end of Lygon Street, removed from the hubbub of the B.East and Teta Mona and a far cry from the showy tourist traps that characterise the city end, Kumo Izakaya juts out from the street with its huge block entrance and opens out into an expansive warehouse-style setting bathed in dim lights and fitted out in iron, wood and stone. It used to be a bank, believe it or not.

Max-Two-Legs-Animal Eater lives not a stone’s throw away from Kumo Izakaya and suggested we visit. She’s known to visit with her parents and not even let them look at the menu, so set is she on ordering her favourites, but she allowed me the liberty of quickly perusing through one. Kumo Izakaya’s menu is divided into an izakaya tapas-style section, sushi and sashimi, seafood, vegetables and meat. It isn’t known for strictly Japanese food with a menu that has clear Italian, Korean and Turkish influences. You can see this in a few of their dishes – from the fried ramen gnocchi with crispy cheese and a spicy cream sauce (definitely getting this once iso is over – no one can stop me!!) to the mentai cod roe pasta with an onsen egg.

Between her disavowal of eating any animal that has three or more legs and my intolerances, we were slightly constrained but we made do. We started with a serve of two spicy tuna tacos with avrugar caviar, samphire and cucumber ($16). I had to look up two ingredients in this wordy description – turns out avrugar caviar is caviar’s poor cousin because it’s a herring substitute that doesn’t contain fish roe and samphire is a native vegetable similar to baby asparagus. The $8 per taco price tag was in the upper echelons of what I’d pay for a taco, so I’m thankful real caviar wasn’t used.

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This was the highlight of our meal. It conjured up memories of Mr Miyagi’s famed salmon nori taco, a dish I had often when Chapel Street was a rickety tramride away. Cubes of tuna sashimi slathered in a spicy mayo filled deep-fried taco shells to the brim, topped with aforementioned avrugar caviar and samphire. The juxtaposition between the coolness of the sashimi and the piquancy of its accompanying sauce, but also the softness of the sashimi and the crunch of the taco shell made for a textural, gustatory party in my mouth. Max-Two-Legs-Animal Eater and I were so enamoured by this we  contemplated ordering another serve.

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But we resisted (on the taco front anyway). Next up was the takoyaki ($12.50). Topped with the requisite bonito flakes and drizzled with a combination of kewpie and aonori (dried green seaweed), these pillowy octopus balls were faultless – I wanted to sink my face into their creamy interiors. As it were, I satisfied myself with having my allotted four.

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Max-Two-Legs-Animal Eater rated Kumo Izakaya’s nasu dengaku highly but owing to my histamine intolerance i.e. inability to eat eggplant, we went for the agedashi tofu ($14) instead. I have yet to taste a bad restaurant-made agedashi tofu and this wasn’t going to be the first – I loved the gelatinous jelly-like texture of the tofu’s exteriors from the potato starch it was coated in, and the warm dashi broth it sat submerged in was the perfect antidote to the wintery night. Max-Two-Legs-Animal Eater and I had one tofu each and split the third one between us.

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The last dish was perhaps the most disappointing of the night. Owing to a shared love, we decided to order the baked half cauliflower with den miso ($12). What arrived, however, wasn’t the soft caramelised cauliflower with crunchy edges that we were expecting, but slightly-too-hard florets that hadn’t absorbed any of the flavours of the den miso it was basted in.

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And while it was *supposed* to be our last dish of the night, we both conceded, that we were still hungry after a short-lived stint of pretending otherwise. We couldn’t let our night end on that sad cauliflower note so we got a serve of two Japanese fried chicken bao with pickled vegetables and thousand island dressing ($14).

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These appealed to our basest instincts – fried chicken! in fluffy bread! – and it was suitably sublime. The chicken was immaculately fried and the soy-infused thousand island dressing was a mouthful of umami. Why end your meal with dessert when you can have fried chicken instead?

I’d had the best intentions to follow my intolerances but a few things would’ve set me off on the night – from the sauce in the spicy tuna taco to the wheat in the takoyaki, topped off by the wheat in the bao at the end. It culminated in a two-bloat situation, wholly worth it when I reminisce now about that taco and bao.

Kumo Izakaya is open Tuesday from Saturday from 5pm to 8.45pm. At the moment, they’re doing pick-up and delivery with a revised menu that includes old favourites like the ramen gnocchi and takoyaki but also new dishes like a range of katsu curries, bulgogi pasta and mentai udon. They deliver to the following suburbs: Carlton, Carlton North, Coburg, Brunswick, Brunswick East, Brunswick West, Northcote and Thornbury.

Author: Sonia Nair

Sonia Nair is a Melbourne-based food writer who persists with her love of everything deep fried and spicy, despite being diagnosed with a histamine intolerance and lactose intolerance after incorrectly thinking she was fructose-intolerant for several years.

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