Newtown and Sydneysiders alike are no strangers to izakaya-style Japanese restaurants, characterized by their small dishes, intimate settings and wide-ranging drink lists. Before the lockdown, Jason Nguyen joined the izakaya crowd by opening Kaiza Izakaya – a Newtown Japanese restaurant with a Vietnamese-style twist.
Kaiza Izakaya has a laid-back layout to match the vibe of its neighbors on Enmore Road. In the front room, you can sit under colorful Vietnamese-style umbrellas and with a full view of the bustling open kitchen. In the back, you’ll find booths and tables surrounded by black walls decorated with sakura leaves, fans, lanterns and paper cranes.
Either way, you’ll have an elegant dining experience. Honing his Japanese culinary skills at the Pyrmont establishments of Chase Kojima, Sokyo and Chukka, Nguyen had a strong desire to incorporate cooking techniques and flavors from the three regions of Vietnam his family hails from.
“My father was from the north, my mother was from the central region and I grew up in the south,” Nguyen said. Large format. “Growing up watching my parents cook and learning about all the different culinary properties of the three regions gave me a very unique perspective.”
Growing up in Vietnam, the inspiration didn’t just come from cooking at home, but from another popular food nexus – the streets. “Vietnamese street food is amazing with its flavor and textures, and I wanted to match that with the simple izakaya style of dining,” says Nguyen. “That’s the concept behind the menu. I want to combine elements of Vietnamese street food with Japanese cooking techniques and ingredients.
Some of the dishes offered from this color twist of cuisines include Wagyu nigiri (crispy rice, salted egg yolk, wasabi kizami); Coffin Bay oysters with spicy nouc cham, ponzu granita and perilla leaf; and Wagyu sirloin with kombu-soy butter, fried garlic and wasabi kizami.
Wagyu rice nigiri holds personal significance for Nguyen, who says the dish was inspired by a favorite childhood memory. “Back in Vietnam, we had never had rice cookers, so we had to use a clay pot to cook the rice, which resulted in these crispy bits on the bottom,” says Nguyen. “My dad used to scrape this off and we would eat it by dipping it in fish sauce. It was so enjoyable, and I want to recreate that experience with Wagyu nigiri and give my guests that “wow” factor. So with every bite you get the richness of the Wagyu that contrasts so well with the crispiness of the rice.
No great izakaya is complete without a list of solid drinks, so Theodore Nguyen (sommelier at 6Head) has formulated a list of irresistible drinks to complement Jason’s culinary vision – with sake and whiskey playing an important role. A selection of popular Vietnamese imported beers is also available.