Earlier this year we were excited to hear that there was a new Japanese cafe with a cat theme. It is tucked away down a little laneway near Sydney Road and is a delight to visit.
Sylvia and I went as soon as we could. It is in a gorgeous old 1930s building that used to be a market. It is one of the hidden gems of Brunswick. My dad says the building has a Spanish feel to it.
The Japanese have a great ability to blend the simple with the cute. A little Totoro on a shelf. Some paint brushes that don't look like they are there just for show. Paw prints on the Open sign.
On this visit we sat inside and looked out at the laneway. It was a
winter's day and the trees were in hibernation. The cafe has a few
tables outside in the sun and shade.
We ordered drinks. Sylvia had a soy latte but was a little jealous of the cocoa cat on my hot chocolate. (On a visit with her dad she found that it is worth ordering the cappuccino for the cocoa cat or cocoa footprints on the froth)
A little black and white cat darted out of the back room while we were having lunch. Later Sylvia found out it was called Udon. Apparently the cat called Chooka is not terribly social and not likely to be seen.
After our first visit, Chookas closed for renovations so it was a few months before our next visit. It was in Spring when the trees were in full blossom and threw a pleasing shade over the outdoor seats where we ate. We were there just before 12 and had a short wait for a seat.
This time we were more adventurous with the drinks. I had the plum soda and Sylvia had the very pretty strawberry matcha iced tea. We were very happy with our drinks. Next time I might have a yuzu soda or a kiwi fruit soda and Sylvia fancies trying the mango matcha iced tea.
On our second visit, Sylvia was keen to try all the vegetarian omusubi so we ordered one of each. They cost about $6.50 - $7.00 each but are quite substantial and satisfying. The Gomoku Omusubi with vegetables was sold out but we have it on our list for next time. Below is a list of the ones we tasted: (CHECK ONLINE - sylvia?????)
- Nori - cooked seaweed in soy sauce in the middle and on top - wrapped in nori - the soy sauce sauce was really intense and thick like a jelly but once we got used to it we loved it and used a little of the soy sauce seaweed as a sauce for other omusubi. We had two of these.
- Konbu - salted kelp mixed in - really good, even though the kelp seemed sparsely distributed.
- Yukari - Japanese mint mixed in with an umeboshi (Japanese pickled plum) in the middle - the mint gave it a gorgeous purple colour and nice flavour but the umeboshi was very salty and intense.
- Wakame - with salted seaweed and black sesame seeds - another delicious one!
- Spicy Takana - with spicy mustard leaf - a slightly orange colour to it - we liked this one but it was quite spicy.
Orders were placed online with a QR code on the table. When we ordered our omusubi (not long after 12pm) we noticed that there were only 2 slices of the Hojicha Cheese Cake ($9) left. We got FOMO. So we ordered our dessert at the same time. That was a wise decision. We were quite full and happy to have only one slice to share.
I had thought that Hojicha was a type of Matcha but a quick search has told me that they are different ways of preserving tea leaves. Matcha is a bright green ground dried leaves while Hojicha is made by roasting leaves, stems, stalks and twigs to make a reddish-brown nutty smoky flavour.
The cheesecake was very soft and creamy, unexpectedly quite sweet which Sylvia wisely told me was balanced by the cream on top. I tend to minimise cream in my desserts because I am not keen on the taste. Sylvia is keen to try more desserts but I would be happy to return to this one.
Part of Chookas' appeal, especially for Sylvia and her dad, is the cats. Udon and Chooka live at Chookas. We have caught a few glimpses of Udon but none of the less social Chooka. People were bringing their dogs to sit outside so possibly that keep the cats at bay. But there are also two cats - Juniper and Gordon - who live not far along the lane.
After our lunch, Sylvia and I stopped to see Juniper (above photo) and Gordon. They are gorgeous, friendly and amusing. Sylvia enjoyed patting and watching them so much that it was hard to tear her away. I spoke to the owner who was enjoying the sunshine and was as lovely as the cats (but not for patting). It fascinated me to talk about residential flats in the old market building.
Sylvia now has been to Chookas five times and planning more visits. As well as visiting with me, she has taken her dad and grandfather there. The last visit they asked for a cocoa Totoro (from the Ghibli movies) and she is sharing her photo. In the background is a dorayaki: red bean paste and whipped cream sandwiched between two pancakes. It was very nice, according to her.
It is a great cafe. Delicious food that we haven't had elsewhere, despite being a fan of sushi in shopping malls. The building and laneway trees give it a lovely relaxed ambience. The staff are friendly and the vibe with the cats is fun. I am sure I will be back and I don't hesitate to recommend it. However it is quite small and busy so you need luck or patience to get a seat but it is well worth your while.
1 Ballarat St, Brunswick VIC 3058
Open Wednesday to Monday, 9.30am - 4.00pm