Forbes Finds: Japanese brilliance in Victoria’s Macedon Ranges

Lifestyle

JANE LINDHE discovers a hidden, delightful Japanese Izakaya restaurant in Victoria’s Macedon Ranges with excellent food, an extensive sake list and charm in abundance.
Kuzo Izakaya co-owners Eriko Pannam and Garath Rowlands | Source:  KGMG Creative

  

You have to know where to look when you search for the incredible Japanese izakaya restaurant in the Victorian spa country town of Woodend, Kuzu Izakaya. As head chef and co-owner Eriko Pannam describes it, the restaurant is “hidden just enough to make first-time visitors work for it” while still being in the heart of the Macedon Ranges.  

Down a narrow, windy cobbled path behind a small country town wine store, you’ll find one of Victoria’s best-kept secrets in modern izakaya cuisine, or “Japanese pub food”, as Pannam calls it.  

The unassuming Japanese restaurant, Kuzo Izakaya, in the Victorian town of Woodend has attracted visitors from far and wide | Source:  KGMG Creative

From the moment you enter Kuzu, you feel like you’ve entered the home of good friends Ð ones who know how to wine and dine you. The carefully designed menu makes it almost impossible to make a selection, so I recommend choosing the banquet menu for your first time.   

At Kuzu, classic Japanese Izakaya is infused with Pannam’s creative genius, leading to modern Japanese comfort food. The outcome is dishes such as mouth-watering, locally sourced zucchini blossom tempura stuffed with fetta and ricotta, vegetarian tentsuyu sprinkled with green tea sea salt, crunchy aburi scallop and kingfish sushi and slow braised pork belly with apple miso.  

The crowd favourite is Kuzu’s infamous JFC (Japanese Fried Chicken), which Pannam pairs with her special spicey mayo and lemon.   

Kuzu has even begun to harness a bit of a rock star reputation, with famous entertainers heading to perform at nearby Hanging Rock stopping at Kuzu to get a feed before their performances.  
But Pannam and co-owner-head of house Garath Rowlands aren’t the kiss-and-tell types.  

Locals are fiercely loyal and protective of the establishment, which has a waiting list as long as your arm every weekend.  But it isn’t easy to secure a booking, and for good reason. It was recently “hatted” by the Good Food Guide, which has seen Melbournian weekenders securing their weekend bookings early in the week. 

Japanese-born Pannam was a Western-trained chef for 14 years before returning to her traditional cooking roots.  

Before opening Kuzu with business partner Rowland, she was head chef at the Japanese restaurant Kumo in Brunswick East. Rowland’s warmth and banter highlight the Kuzu experience, and his two decades of hospitality experience shine through.  

“What we wanted when we started five years ago was for everyone to walk in and feel welcome, from the staff to the suppliers and the customers.  

Kuzu’s success has seen it open a Japanese casual hawker-style sister restaurant, ZENZEN, in the nearby town of Gisborne.  

More from Forbes Life