Cafoo Izakaya has settled quietly into the space that held the Blue Door on 5th in Palm Beach. With burnt timber and black painted walls, driftwood chandeliers and iron lanterns, the rear dining room hung with fairy lights, the venue has sprung into new life as an izakaya.
And why shouldn’t it! After all, owner and chef Masahiko Kaneko owned and operated his own izakaya in his hometown of Shizuoka for 13 years before moving to the Gold Coast in 2009. Since then, Chef Masa has worked in Broadbeach’s Sofitel Hotel, Palazzo Versace including Vie, O-Sushi and Reef Seafood at The Brickworks, Southport.
In May 2019, with the help of his wife Takako and daughter Karen, Chef Masa opened up his restaurant specialising in seafood and yakitori skewers.
‘Cafoo’ in the Japanese dialect spoken primarily in the southernmost islands of Japan, means ‘Happiness and good news’.
“We are passionate to bring creative but authentic Japanese cuisine with local and international ingredients,” the family says. “We hope to deliver rich genuine Japanese experience to everyone with warm welcome.”
There’s a lot of love from the Gold Coast public in return. We have never fallen out of love with sushi, sashimi, gyoza or karaage chicken, and Japanese food is seen as fresh and light.
We dine at lunchtime, choosing a tuna poke bowl from Cafoo Izakaya’s list of lunch specials, including Karaage chicken, Teriyaki chicken, several different poke bowls, including some gluten-free, and a Japanese curry for $12 – $16. The fresh yellow fin tuna is delicious, rounded out with avocado, carrot, edamame, wakame salad, red cabbage, a gluten-free sauce and sesame seeds on rice ($14).
Our other choices come from the full menu, which is easy to follow, divided into Fresh seafood and sashimi, Nibbles, Traditional Japanese tapas, Sumiyaki skewers, Salad, Sushi, Gohan (cooked rice meals) and Dulce (sweets).
Living on the coast brings us fresh local seafood, and this is where Chef Masa excels, bringing his own creative twist to dishes such as Abuli salmon carpaccio ($19.50), the seared slices of salmon finished with a homemade ponzu sauce, truffle oil, shallots, shredded chilli and red onion. The dish is bitey but addictive, the truffle oil adding richness to the already fresh and vibrant flavours.
Daily Osusume specials also make the most of fresh seafood, offering such dishes as Hiramasa kingfish and Assorted sashimi.
While there are references to traditional izakayas in the purpose of the venue, some of the décor, and menu items such as okonomiyaki, char-grilled sumiyaki skewers, handmade gyoza, beef tataki and onigiri agedashi (a crispy rice ball served in dashi broth), Chef Masa has made some interesting fusion additions to appeal to Gold Coast diners.
Ninjya chicken wings finished off with sweet soy, mirin, honey and sesame, sit alongside Crumbed haloumi cheese, Crispy pork belly in teriyaki sauce with stir-fried vegetables, Japanese-styled arancini balls, Prawn tartare with avocado in crispy wonton cups, Beer-battered zucchini chips, and Chilli con carne with bread.
Like any meal at a new restaurant, we’d start with our known favourites (seafood for us), order some rare traditional dishes we haven’t tried, such as onigiri agedashi, and then branch out to a couple of fusion dishes.
The wine list is interesting, with a mix of international and rare Australian wines. On show when we dine is a collection of Japanese whiskies, sakes, shochu and umeshu plum wines that need suitable investigation. With sake flights and Japanese-style cocktails, such as the house-made ‘sakegria’ served by the jug, Cafoo has all the ingredients for a great party.
It’s the blend of old and new that’s intriguing at Cafoo Izakaya. There’s no real definition of what makes ‘new izakaya’ in a different country with vastly different traditions, eating and drinking styles. What we’re certain of is that each izakaya on the Gold Coast seeks its own audience.
Certainly, the dishes we’ve tried so far at Cafoo Izakaya have been a great start!
6 Fifth Ave, Palm Beach Ph: 07 5525 6759
Open: Mon – Fri 11:30am – 2pm, 5pm – late; Sat – Sun 11:30am – late