Like fish and chipperies in Australia or slice shops in the United States, in Japan curry shops are a ubiquitous part of the culinary landscape.
Curry was originally introduced to the nation by way of Britain by way of India, and curry rice is now widely considered the country’s national dish. But it’s yet to gain the same traction in Australia as ramen, sushi or other Japanese exports.
“Tokyo has over 900 shops doing only curry,” says Akiko Asano, the Tokyo-born Melbourne architect behind venues including the Elysian and Tamura Sake Bar. “But there was no one focusing on just curry here yet.”
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So she and her husband, Shizuku Ramen owner David Chen, decided to fill the gap, opening Kare, a West Melbourne shop entirely dedicated to the dish.
Asano designed the space herself. It’s meant to suit all-day trade, with burgundy tiled floors; large, sunny windows overlooking Queen Vic Market and intimate nooks to escape to in the evenings. For now, expect curry rice to dominate the dinner menu, though she plans to introduce izakaya-style small plates in the coming months.
Most homemade Japanese curries start with a base of concentrated curry blocks that get cooked down into a gravy and mixed with chunks of potato, carrot and beef or chicken. But Kare specialises in “ohfu”, or European-style curry, a time-intensive alternative that Asano says is more commonly found at restaurants in Japan.
The shop’s signature roux begins with beef, slow-braised for five to six hours until tender, then combined with S&B curry powder and a generous helping of butter. There’s also the keema curry, which is richer and sweeter than the Kare signature thanks to the addition of pork mince and tomato, as well as a vegan version with vegetables, plant-based meatballs or panko-crumbed vegan chicken.
Curries come on a bed of white rice with fukujinzuke (an assortment of lightly pickled vegetables). The curries can also be found in kare pan, a soft bread made from a milk-enriched dough that’s coated in panko crumbs, filled with curry and then deep-fried.
“I wanted to [introduce] this because people are getting busy, they don’t have time for a proper meal, but this has their carbs, veggies, meat, everything in there,” Asano explains.
There’s also a range of sweets, including mochi-stuffed hojicha cookies with a crackled sugar top, yuzu canelés and anko (sweet red-bean paste) croissants.
Sweets and drinks will change seasonally. There’ll be beverages like Acoffee espresso-yuzu tonics and kinako (roasted soybean) lattes by day, and craft beers and canned cocktails by night.
173 Victoria Street, West Melbourne
Mon to Fri 8am–4pm; 5pm–10pm