One of the reasons Eugene Leung chose to open his cafe Poketto in Chippendale’s old Cadbury chocolate factory was the light. The oversized front door lets in bright, indirect light that’s perfect for Leung’s pair of bonsai: a diminutive Port Jackson fig and a myrtle beech, both supplied by his bonsai dealer.

The bonsai trees are Leung’s current hobby. As he tells Broadsheet, the design elements in each of the cafes he shares with chef Junichi Okamatsu – Marrickville’s Kurumac and Kirribilli’s Cool Mac – reflect his interests at the time they opened.

“Kurumac in Marrickville also has bonsai and a lot of artwork by local artists,” Leung says. “Cool Mac in Kirribilli has references to hip-hop, sneakers and basketball.”
Poketto’s Instagram bio says it’s “kind of like” Kurumac and Cool Mac – that is to say, serving comforting, Japanese-inspired cafe food. But in the eight years since Cool Mac opened, Okamatsu’s cooking has evolved.

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“It’s still homey comfort food, but there are some dishes that are a bit more fine,” Leung tells Broadsheet. “For example, the fish toast. It’s a zesty, lemony confit fish – we use the leftovers of salmon, kingfish and tuna from other dishes and serve it on shokupan. We also do a kinako [roasted soybean flour] panna cotta, where the kinako is combined with a coffee crème caramel.”

A dry keema curry (spiced mince pork and vegetables topped with a raw egg) falls into the comfort-food category, and there are a few Kurumac favourites, like the generous onigiri set that comes with a clear mushroom soup and house-made cucumber pickles.

“In Japan onigiri are usually a 50/50 ratio of filling to rice, but we’re doing 70/30. The fillings rotate; right now we’ve got salted salmon or plum bonito mayo.”

As at the other locations, Sample Coffee is the brew of choice. Actually, the business operators are such good mates that when Sample Coffee decided to pass on its Chippendale location, Old Gold Cafe, Poketto stepped in.

“This was an unplanned purchase,” Leung says. “The cafe used to be owned by Sample. Reuben [Mardan] said the space wasn’t working and offered the business to us. It’s such a beautiful building, and their fit-out was perfect.”

The 24-seat space, with its high ceilings, polished concrete floors and tall, black-framed windows, is a good spot for an iced matcha latte and mentaiko (cod roe) udon with shimeji mushrooms and cream. There’s also a drinks menu with beer, sake and two cocktails: a matcha-limoncello tonic or a mix of umeshu, green tea and mint.

When Leung and Okamatsu opened Cool Mac, putting congee on a Sydney breakfast menu was revolutionary. “Eight years ago, there weren’t a lot of places doing menus like ours. I don’t mean to sound egotistical, but it was quite ambitious to try to change the direction of cafe dining. We never wanted to force Australians to change the way they view breakfast, but we wanted to open their minds a little bit.”

Poketto
1 Dangar Street, Chippendale

Hours:
Mon to Fri 7am–4pm
Sat & Sun 8am–3pm
Kitchen closes at 2.30pm

@pokettocafe