Opening Hours: Tuesday until Saturday 10.30am until 4pm
Special Dinner Dates on Website
With a huge floor area covered with authentic oriental furniture, an array of rare antiques, and walls decked out in fine art, you can kill two cranes with one stone by visiting Kazari for lunch. While the front of the store is a collection of foreign decor, a small section near the back houses a tiny open kitchen and enough seating for only 17 lucky people (fear not, they take bookings). In warmer months, one can dine in the courtyard amidst stone statues and trees, adding a few more seats to the cafe's capacity.
The attentive and unassuming waitress worked with an air of efficient calm, while the new Japanese chef, Toshio Aihara, prepared delectable items from the recently updated menu. His 20 years experience at some of Melbourne's and Japan's top restaurants were evident in his food. Interestingly, the Kazari website boasts excitedly about Aihara's skill in French cuisine, which will apparently make an appearance on the menu over the coming weeks.
Kazari has a weekly specials menu, which at the time of our visit included sesame crusted harpuka fillet in seaweed butter, braised pork belly on congee with miso soy sauce, tender braised ox tongue with demi glaze sauce, and a delicate omu-rice Japanese omelette on rice (pictured below).
We ordered a mixed basket of chicken and prawn dumplings to start. They came steaming to the table and were fresh and flavoursome; we knew we were in for a treat with our mains.
I ordered the pan-fried salmon fillet served on rice with vegetables in miso sauce, although that description does this dish little justice. For just $20, this lunch made it to my top three salmon experiences of all time. It was simply delicious and barely cooked through with a layer of crispy fried skin on top. I don't usually eat fish skin, but I could hardly refrain from shovelling it in. The salmon flaked away as the fork touched it; no cutting knife was required. The miso sauce was thick and sweet, complementing the vegetables - which included a variety of tender but crunchy mushrooms - and adding a touch of excitement to the rice. This is the type of dish you think about after you leave the table. Then you go and tell your friends about it. Then you crave it again.
Also ordered were the chicken 'diable' (tender chicken thighs seasoned with green tea) and the grilled teriyaki chicken, both served with three-grain rice, miso soup and salad. A great winter warmer would have been the nabeyaki udon, a hot pot of organic udon noodles served with tempura prawns, vegetables and an organic free-range egg. However, it will be hard for me to go past the salmon and order something else on my next visit!
If you simply want to enjoy the serenity of this Japanese hideaway, you can pop in and choose from their selection of Japanese and Chinese teas, organic fruit juices (including pomegranate green tea and black mulberry), and iced teas. Kazari also uses Gigante Fair Trade coffee, but might I suggest a green tea, or 'Matcha,' latte?
The natural tea is made from handpicked young leaves, which are steamed fresh and then rolled and dried. Next, they are ground into a fine powder to maintain the antioxidants. The process is appropriated from the traditional Zen art of Chado, or 'Tea Ceremony,' in which the powder is infused into ceramic bowls, whisked, and then consumed by the drinker. It is all very impressive, but does it taste any good? Does it ever! If you like green tea ice cream, you will like this sweet, warm version that maintains a powdery texture and comes with a drizzled cobweb of honey on top. If nothing else, it will refresh your insides!
Despite a sign blatantly advertising Kazari as a lunch-come-furniture/antique store, the cafe feels like a hidden secret you don't want to share. Pop in to escape on your lunch break, relax after a long day shopping at the nearby Chapel Street strip, or simply indulge in some first-class food with one of the Japanese cooking or architecture coffee-table books for company. I guarantee you will leave with a balanced yin and yang.