When I first moved in here, I received notice of a development application for a Japanese restaurant just across the road. There are plenty of cafés in Elizabeth Bay but we could use more restaurants, and I was excited — I might actually get to go to a restaurant’s opening night! The application was approved, and not much seemed to happen for a while, but the work progressed slowly. When the signs finally went up the suspense set in, and they were ready to open on the 17th of August — about nine months later. We booked ourselves in for dinner, so as not to miss out. Rather than a short summary, I’ve decided, for the first time, to write a real restaurant review.

Restaurant: kūjin, 41B Elizabeth Bay Rd, Elizabeth Bay, 02-9331-6077
Cuisine: Japanese specialising in udon and teppanyaki grill
Hours: Tuesday to Sunday lunch 12:00–3:00 and dinner 6:00–9:30
Verdict: some great food, but beset with logistical issues

Opening night

We arrived at seven in the evening on the opening Tuesday. The restaurant was already more than half full, so it looked like a good turnout for an opening night. The lighting was subdued, and there was some background music playing. The kitchen is separated from the dining area by a low barrier, so you can see the meals being prepared. The waitress who seated us was polite and friendly.

Up to the point where we were brought our menus and water, everything had been going very smoothly, but it didn’t take long after this for the opening night issues to appear. We ordered a Sapporo beer for me, an Asahi beer for Thanh, and an apple juice for Yoshi. The drinks seemed to be taking a while to arrive. Eventually a waitress came to tell tell us most apologetically that there was no juice tonight. It wasn’t so bad — Yoshi just had to be content with water. I also noticed that the couple next to us had been given lunch menus, and the mistake was not noticed until after they had ordered, so they had to order again from the correct menu.

Tarako Cocktail ($7.00)

For me, this entrée was the highlight of the night — it was the kind of thing you’d imagine seeing on Iron Chef. The combination of colours was very appealing, and the flavours of cod roe, tofu, avocado and beans balanced perfectly. This was a great appetiser, and set high expectations.

Kake Curry Udon ($16.00)

This dish was a bit of a let-down. The description on the menu said “kujin wagyu beef curry” but there was no beef to be seen — just two scraps of chicken meat, and four vegetable balls. The presentation was nice, the thick curry sauce had a good rich flavour, and the noodles were cooked perfectly. It was OK, but nothing special, and not worth the asking price in my opinion.

Daikon Steak ($10.00), Kujin Pickles ($5.00) and Rice ($3.50)

The rice wasn’t done properly at all: it was too soft at the bottom — almost like congee; they must have put too much water in the rice cooker or something. But the daikon steak was beautiful. There were three thick pieces of marinated and grilled daikon, served with a garlic sauce. They had a deliciously soft texture that was even all the way through. Yoshi and Thanh loved this one. The pickled seasonal vegetables were nice, too — sour with just a hint of spiciness.

Kake Wagyu Beef Udon ($16.00)

This dish was beset with logistical issues: initially they forgot to bring it at all; when we asked, the waitress apologised profusely and rushed off the kitchen, where we could see much discussion and looking at the orders being served; this was followed by the the wrong dish — grilled wagyu beef steak — being brought out; this resulted in even more apologies as it was taken away. We did eventually get the right dish, which was fortunate — Yoshi would have been very upset if he didn’t get his noodles.

When we finally got the dish, it didn’t disappoint. The thinly sliced beef was soft and and almost melted in your mouth; the dashi broth had a rich flavour, and you could smell the fish and seaweed in it; the flavour of the broth permeated the meat and noodles. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this.

Plum Wine Sorbet ($7.00)

A delicious plum wine sorbet over Earl Grey mousse served in a martini glass. Not too much to say about this, but it was a pleasant, sweet conclusion to the meal. The serving size is quite small, so you need to take your time and enjoy it.

Green Tea Icecream Crêpe ($7.00)

A small crêpe served with green tea icecream and some azuki red beans. The ice-cream was smooth and not too sweet, with that distinctive slightly bitter green tea flavour. As with the sorbet, the serving size is quite small, but you’re not trying to fill up on this so it’s sufficient.


We had one more problem before we left: the bill included the wagyu beef steak that we didn’t eat, but this was quickly rectified and more apologies were offered. The issues could all be forgiven as opening night teething problems, and in spite of it all, we had eaten some excellent food. The staff had been very polite and apologetic throughout the evening. As we left, they apologised again and asked us to come back again, when the opening night issues have been resolved.

Second Chance

We thought it would be rather unfair to form an opinion of the service based on the opening night alone, so we came back the next Sunday (the 2nd). We didn’t bother to make a booking this time. We were seated near the front of the restaurant, brought menus and water, and we placed our order. The drinks came out quickly this time, and Yoshi got his apple juice. I guess the initial juice delivery must have missed the opening.

Tukune ($6.00)

Two skewers of chicken meatballs grilled teppanyaki-style and served with a sweet teriyaki sauce. The meatballs were made with a very lean chicken mince, not like the fatty stuff often sold by butchers, and seasoned with spring onions and ginger. They were evenly cooked through and not dry, with a very clean flavour.

Tako Okonomiyaki ($16.00)

This is thick savoury pancake of sorts It was packed with shredded vegetables and some big chunks of octopus, and topped with Japanese mayonnaise and bonito flakes. This hearty dish was almost like a complete meal in itself. All the flavours were fresh and alive. Did I mention the big tasty chunks of octopus? Definitely one of the best tako okonomiyaki I’ve had.

Grilled Eggplant ($10.00), Daikon Steak ($10.00) and Rice ($3.50)

The rice was cooked perfectly this time with no sogginess at the bottom, so it would appear that was just another opening night hiccup. The grilled eggplant topped with tofu cheese was quite tasty, but it was really to oily for someone trying to watch their cholesterol like me. Don’t let that put you off if you aren’t watching your diet — the flavour was great and it was cooked to perfection.

This time, it was the daikon steak that was plagued with logistical issues. Initially, it was brought out to the table next to ours, so they had to take it away and cook us a new one. We were offered apologies and a complimentary bowl of edamame (boiled young soybeans) to eat while we waited. Sadly, the daikon steak wasn’t as good this time as on the opening night: the texture wasn’t even all the way through and the flavour of the marinade hadn’t permeated it as well. It’s possible they rushed to get it cooked quickly after the error, but it was still a disappointment after how good this dish was the first time.

Kake Wagyu Beef Udon ($16.00)

This dish didn’t disappoint the second time around. The same comments apply as for the first time: lovely soft beef and perfectly cooked noodles in a flavoursome broth. Yoshi loved the noodles, and if a restaurant dish keeps a two-year-old happy, they must be doing something right.

Final Summary

You can definitely get some excellent food at kūjin, but neither night was completely trouble-free. This was all within a week of opening, so some issues can be expected, and there were far fewer problems the second time. The staff were very polite and apologetic throughout. Will I return? Definitely — most of the dishes really shone, and there’s a lot more on the menu that I’d like to try.

This entry was posted on Sunday, 29 August, 2010 at 8:58 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One response to “kūjin”

Pamela Mcfadin says:

I spent a year as an exchange student in Kyoto Japan, and I have to say I probably wouldnt have gotten by if it wasnt for a delicious bowl of udon a few times a week! There is even one shop where you can eat for free if you do 30 minutes of washing the dishes after, but I cant say I was ever that poor! Anyway, I found a load more tasty looking ideas at this udon recipe site.

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