Okay, before I even start on the cocktails: you absolutely must try the fried chicken at this Japanese restaurant and bar in Surry Hills. Regulars say it’s better than Mary’s (yes, it’s a big call), and while it certainly competes on all the usual juicy-crunchy points, it’s the surprising touch of ginger that keeps us dreaming about it. No wonder it’s the only dish that stays on for both lunch and dinner—Kagura probably got tired of telling people it wasn’t available during the day.
It’s at night that I first visit this little Surry Hills restaurant, which has waited for months to finally become the Japanese bar it was always meant to be. Owner and head cocktail flinger Flynn McLennan started Kagura as his passion project, having previously honed his craft at Zeta bar and after managing Uncle Ming’s, where he spent time refining their Japanese whiskies. We suggest you head in ASAP because it’s not just the cocktails themselves that are drawing crowds, but the whole darn experience.
You know Kagura is a bit of a dream-come-true when McLennan happily shares parts of his personal vintage collection of liquors with you (plus a few stories from their travels), and takes delight in going off-menu with them. Fortunately, the Rum and Plum blazer is staying on the menu, at least for now. The flaming rum being poured back and forth is a spectacle, but drinking it is even more fun. It reminds me of what a mulled rum might taste like, but with a heck of a lot more zest, and a flame throwing show instead of waiting.
As a teaser for warmer weather, we also try a Kagura special, Le Samouraï, which features a yuzu and wasabi foam atop a refreshing cucumber number. Ikkyu’s Tea Party is another winner, featuring a sweet, moreish blend of genmaicha and matcha. Served in a teapot and designed to share, it makes for a very sociable drink indeed (although I couldn’t help ordering another after sharing half my drink!).
Of course, Kagura was much loved for its food too, before the drinks came out to play. After a second lot of fried chicken (yes, you’ll succumb too), you’ll want to try the smoked ox tongue, especially if you like your gamier meats. For a little more of that cocktail theatre with your dining, order the maple smoked scallops, infused with whisky aroma in a bell jar. Or, take some tequila in the form of the house-cured wagyu. Even the gorgeous chestnut mousse is a little different from the usual green tea ice cream usually found on Japanese dessert menus.
In case all of that isn’t enough to keep you occupied, feel free to grab some chalk and contribute to the awesome Japanese wall art (I had way too much fun with the origami cranes). Even though the drinks and dishes are showstoppers, Kagura has been designed to be your “third place”, and you’re meant to get a little more playful than you might expect. If you’re drinking at the bar (recommended if you like a little cocktail conversation), you’re literally drinking off an upcycled door, made by a friend of Flynn’s. After a few rounds you really do start to feel at home, and the BBQ Sundays that Kagura hosts are testament to that warm welcome feeling you get.
Head down to this little gem before it fills up mid-week too. Word is going to travel fast, and you wouldn’t want them to run out of fried chicken now, would you?
Image credit: Federica Portentoso