Café lovers, it’s a well-known fact we are completely and unashamedly Melbourne’s resident lovers of all things cute and Japanese. There’s something so incredibly satisfying about household items that have smiling faces on them for no apparent reason, or jewellery made up of miniature macarons and doughnuts, or cartoons that feature a grumpy egg who sleeps under a blanket of bacon (that’s Gudetama for the uninitiated). Pretty much EVERYTHING is better in Japan, amirite?
So when I discovered South Melbourne venue Kuu Café’s Instagram account (littered with Japanese-style matcha lattes with kittens and cuddling seals artfully drawn into their foam!!), needless to say, everyone within a 20-yard radius was aware of my intentions to uncover this hidden gem one delicious dish at a time.
Never heard of Kuu Café + Japanese Kitchen? Me neither, up until a couple of weeks ago. The petite Japanese café and eatery opened in June 2015 and has flown under Melbourne’s food-centric radar for the majority of its life to date. Founded by Tats and Sumi, two food lovers with Japanese roots who have lived in Melbourne for a decade, the pair opened the cute South Melbourne café without much fanfare. Instead, they chose to focus on fresh, simple food—made by Sumi, who grew up learning the ropes in her family’s Japanese restaurants—bringing their very own slice of Japan to Melbourne. The result borrows a few tips and tricks from the locals to create a café that’s straight out of Tokyo’s buzzing Harajuku strip, only with much better coffee.
Open 7 days a week, Kuu Café serves breakfast, lunch and an early dinner, with the kitchen shutting up shop each weeknight at 8pm, and at 4pm on weekends. You’ll find traditional Japanese-style breakfast platters—think seasoned rice, teriyaki salmon, seasoned vegetables and seaweed salads served with the Melbourne twist of a poached egg and Hollandaise—presented alongside wholesome bircher muesli, and chicken katsu sandwiches that make for a fantastic on-the-go lunch.
Matcha fans, if you’re looking for a new place to indulge your cravings, you can’t go wrong with the variety of options here. Everything at Kuu Café + Japanese Kitchen is made on-site, which means homemade matcha cakes (not mass-produced treats that have been delivered a day or two earlier) that use powder sourced from regional Japan by Tats and Sumi themselves. If you’re planning on swapping the house blend of 5 Senses coffee for something that will satisfy your green-tea tooth, you’ve picked a great place to do so: the matcha lattes are some of the best that we’ve sipped in Melbourne… And if you’re lucky, you’ll find a friendly kawaii face staring up at you!
While Kuu Café will always be a hub of food-based happiness (aka, the best kind), the team’s plans to stretch their love of Japanese culture goes beyond the J-pop and fashion magazines you’ll find in this café. Hoping to inspire a community of like-minded locals, Tats told me of his ambitions to hold a series of craft markets in the café’s tiny space, inviting local artists, illustrators, musicians and other creatives to showcase their latest work to a fun-loving audience.
So next time you’re wistfully wishing for that next Jetstar deal to Tokyo, ditch the 10-hour flight, don your favourite Hello Kitty t-shirt, and make the far shorter trip to this South Melbourne treasure. You’ll be smiling like a matcha latte cat in no time.
Looking for more Japanese hotspots? We always are. Check out Melbourne's Most Authentic Japanese Eateries!
Image credit: Brodie Chan for The Urban List