Right near the entrance to Spice Alley, on Kensington Street in Chippendale, sit four heritage-listed cottages that are near identical, save for the paint jobs and signs out front. The third house along is home to 3 Ronin, a new Japanese-inspired cafe that’ll soon trade as a whisky bar at night.
Co-owners Stefan Swiegers, Daniel Nguyen and Tan Pham make up the venue’s eponymous ronin (samurai). “The path of the samurai is the three of us breaking free from bosses again, just doing our own thing and not being tied down,” Swiegers tells Broadsheet.
Swiegers once owned his own venue, but took a break for a couple of years, managing cafes such as Little M and Kippaloo in the interim. Nguyen and Pham own online store Wagyu Whisky. And while whisky will be one of the draws once the venue’s liquor license comes through, Wagyu already features prominently at the cafe.
The food menu – designed by head chef Brian Villahermosa (Movida, Garçon) – is Asian-inspired, with dishes such as sourdough waffles topped with miso-sesame eggplant; a smoked Wagyu brisket bao with pickled cabbage and spiced aioli; and a big bowl of rice and quinoa congee topped with house-smoked salmon and a slow-cooked egg.
Smoked Wagyu pho frequently makes an appearance as a rotating special. “It’s not very traditional; we use things like pickled eggs and finger lime. We try to make sure that everything has a bit of familiarity … even if you’re unsure of the food at first, there’s definitely a familiar taste in every one of our dishes,” Swiegers says.
But when 3 Ronin opens its whisky bar, the drinks list will look a little different.
“We’ve got a really good selection of Japanese sake variations and a very good, old list of vintage Suntory and Nikka whisky and brandy that we’ll also have on show,” Swiegers says. “And a few other surprises along the way, like a nice spicy Bloody Mary.”
He also promises fun cocktails, local beers, wine and sparkling sake, plus Wagyu tacos, biltong, cheese plates and house-smoked nuts to snack on.
The cottage – once home to workers from the nearby Carlton United Brewery (now part of The Old Clare) – has what Swiegers calls “good bones”: exposed brick and clean white walls that add to the cafe’s charm and neat simplicity. The white counter, lined with hexagonal tiles, is from Glider KS, which once called the space home.
“At night it’ll take some transformation, because we haven’t gotten there yet. We want to transform it into – not a Tokyo bar per se – but just a small bar with some Japanese accents,” Swiegers says.
26 Kensington Street, Chippendale
0411 616 167