It was a bit like a kid’s marble painting, the effect that the kamo dango (that’s duck meatball to you and I) had created, having rolled around the inside of my rucksack, smearing its contents with gleaming cerise-coloured plum ketchup. It had escaped from my cardboard takeaway box, you see, which contained the leftovers from my first meal at Woky Ko: Kaiju. That duck ball was a salvaged treasure – with a beautiful crust on the outer and a juicy, melty middle, it was lightly spiced and smokeinfused from the Japanese robata grill it had been cooked over. We’d been served three on a skewer (£6) alongside a bright and tangy fermented plum sauce a pairing that’s up there with the best in the city.
I told myself it was more illustrative of my waste reduction efforts than shameful greed when I asked our server to box up the scraps I was too full to finish. You have to do it at Woky Ko: Kaiju, though; every bite is so layered with flavour, so carefully thought out, that it’s a crime to leave even a crumb.
Also in that box (these, luckily, had stayed put) were a few cubes of raw salmon from a generous bowl of super-fresh fish (£8.50) coated with a tangy yuzu and shallot dressing. The soft pink cubes were swathed in fronds of herby dill, juicy, salty emerald-coloured wakame and peppy spring onion. The bright pink and green melange not only looked spectacular but had really memorable flavour.
But would you expect anything less from Larkin Cen? After launching Woky Ko: Kauto last year, the Bristol food hero (sure, technically he’s from Cardiff, but he’s lived here since 2010 and has had restaurants in the city for the last three years – so I’m claiming him as our own) opened his third local venture in March.
Kaiju, an izakaya-style joint (basically the cool, Japanese equivalent of a pub), is housed in a couple of shipping containers sat above Meatbox and Squeezed at Cargo. This light-filled space has floor-to-ceiling glass on one side and a first-floor outdoor terrace, promising top alfresco dining potential.
Making it even more spot-on for summer is its focus on Japanese coal-fired cuisine (i.e. a blooming decent barbecue); the subtle and moreish char of my duck balls was imparted by speciality Binchotan briquettes. Chef John Watson, formerly of Redland restaurant No Man’s Grace, has been brought onboard to head up the kitchen, which has yakitori (grilled skewers) at its core.
There’s ramen too, with toppings from that grill. The rich, deeply flavoured tantanmen number (£12.95) is a touch heavier and richer than your regular ramen, deliciously garlicky and gingery, with moist ground pork and a good helping of greens and beansprouts to add crunch. The pork floats atop an almost creamy, nutty soup – warming and comforting but still fresh and flavoursome. How did we ever do without this kind of food in Bristol? (Seriously, what did we eat 10 years ago?)
And it’s not just meat that’s given the rotaba treatment. The shiitake mushrooms (£3) have an amazing roasted garlic and soy flavour, the umami deepened with the smoke.
On the day we went for our feed, there was a brand new veg dish on the menu too – cauliflower, fried in a light batter with lemongrass Sriracha mayo and killer kimchi sesame seeds (£6.50). See what we mean about the detail?
Cen’s signature dessert – the ice cream bao bun – is noticeably absent from the Kaiju menu, but (stay with me, folks), there are two puds that are even better. Contentious, I know.
First of all, the miso marshmallow (£4) is everything that’s right about the combo of sweet and savoury – the airy, vanillary ’mallow had been skewered then covered with miso and charred on the grill, giving it a crisp and salty, savoury skin.
The lemon and ginger cream (£4) is similar in effect – a cool, thick and tangy cream with heaps of sesame grains, which bring this posset-like dish into the 21st century.
All in all, it’s another triumph – an exciting concept with cutting-edge food that’s perfectly executed – and yet another Cargo venue to add to your ‘must-visit’ list. Just don’t forget your takeaway box. And remember toclose the lid properly on the way home.
Woky Ko: Kaiju, Unit 25, Cargo 2, Wapping Wharf, Bristol BS1 6ZA
Main image + interior shot: Kirstie Young