Exciting Asian fusion food and smart cocktail making in a moody space on Bridge Road. Thankfully, this dynamic, classy venue has come through the Covid-lockdowns intact. Even better, it remains a culinary highlight worth seeking out in this part of Richmond.
Location: 396 Bridge Rd, Richmond, VIC 3121 Ph: (03) 9089 7299
Firstly, let’s acknowledge how lucky we are that Kekou is still in existence.
Shortly after Eatability heard about this new Asian-influenced entry into the Melbourne dining scene, the city was thrown into a series of Lockdowns. As we know, many great venues closed due to Covid, never to reopen.
And yes. We feared that Kekou would be another Covid-casualty before we had a chance to sample their food.
Well, thankfully Kekou remains with us. And it’s turning out the thrilling kind of Asian fare that many places try to master, but few manage with such success. The vibe is cool but the food is hot and spicy – and that’s a winning combination.
If you have a love of Asian fusion dining, see our review of Coda Melbourne
Kekou sits in the middle of Bridge Road in a lovely 120 year old building. Housed over 2 floors, there’s a dark wood, murkily lit bar to the left as you come in and tables leading back towards the rear of the dining room. A discreet staircase to one side takes you up to another dining area above.
The interior is an attractive blend of concrete and stripped-back brick, punctuated with original beams. Cleverly illuminated splashes of greenery give organic character to what could be a slightly austere industrial chic aesthetic, and additional soul comes from the subtle, warm lighting design.
Despite it being early on a weekday night, the restaurant is full, with an eclectic mix of patrons, when we dine. From multi-generational family groups (though no small children) to tables of young man and women out socialising with friends. All of this adds to the relaxed, yet hip ambience of Kekou.
For more of the Best Asian Fusion Restaurants in Melbourne, click here.
Can I say delicious – and leave it at that?
Probably not. Though it’s a totally accurate description.
Now is the time to mention the pedigree of the person behind the burners at Kekou.
A native of Bangkok, Oak Kunnalok has worked at Chin Chin and Nobu, amongst other places. And at Kekou, the aromatic ghosts of those acclaimed establishments are there, lurking behind the scenes of a new and vibrant take on fabulous world of Asian fusion food – done really, really well.
The balance and excitement of Thai food is the foundation of a number of dishes, but there are also nods to Chinese cuisine, Vietnam and Japan in the pan-Asian fare.
Any good chef will tell you that one of the most important pieces of kitchen equipment is a good set of knives. Whether you’re looking for specialist chef’s knives, steak knives or an Asian-style cleaver – I love mine! – we’ve got you covered. Click here for more information and prices.
I have a rule that if I order any kind of betel leaf starter that doesn’t smack me around the gob with flavour, I go home immediately and cry. Happily, the only tears you’ll be shedding at Kekou are ones of joy.
If you want innovative breakfast dishes and cool vibes, check out our review of Pillar of Salt
The Lobster Betel Leaf Kerisik, Finger Lime & Miang Kum ($9ea) does everything I want and more. Firm yet giving lobster flesh, sweet and juicy, zapped with lime and chilli and a glorious rainbow of aromatics. It’s a the most exciting ‘one bite’ I’ve had in ages and seriously raises my expectations for the rest of the meal.
Next up is the Pork and Prawn Wonton, Coconut Bisque & Lemongrass ($16). This dish is so packed full of prawny funk that it’s almost too much for me. Almost. But not quite. There are French chefs who dream of getting this much punch into their bisques.
We finish off our Starters with the Crispy Chicken Ribs, Chilli Salt and Spiced Yoghurt ($16).
It’s a knobbly rubble of gnarliness which reveals surprisingly tender chunks of chicken when you break through the addictive coating. One of our party considers themselves a fried chicken aficionado and he’s very happy with this heat-laced offering.
And that’s something that you really should be aware of at Kekou. It’s not the best option for people who don’t like spicy food. There is an authentic level of chilli in the dishes here which is great if you want a kick to your meals, but could be a problem for anyone with an allergy or aversion.
But their loss….!
If you prefer bright lights and noise with your Asian fusion, see our take on Chin Chin.
Whilst the Roaring Forties Grilled Lamb Ribs, Coconut Gravy & Pickled Green Papaya ($29) moved on and off our order a number of times, in the end, the only ribs we ate were the chicken ones (see above).
Instead, we had the Kaffir Lime Cured Kingfish Sashimi, Red Nahm Jim, Coconut & Lime Pearl ($26). It proved to be a palate-cleansing rollercoaster of a course. Delicate petals of super-fresh fish forming a pearly island in the centre of a sweet, salty, sharp, hot and utterly divine lake of dressing. 10 out of 10 from all of us.
The Char Kway Teow, Wagyu Flank, Baby Tiger Prawn & Lup Chong ($43) put most other bowls of noodles that we’ve eaten recently to shame.
The chewy, charred rice noodles, slick with umami-deep sauce, are the perfect vehicle for the sweet prawn meat, beansprouts and amazingly tender wagyu. It is a meaty dish, in every sense of the word.
Our final savoury selection was a bona fide stunner.
The Applewood Smoked Altai Beef Ribs, Chiangmai Curry & Crispy Vermicelli ($43) is a thing of beauty when it arrives at the table.
An unctuous slab of the tenderest beef presented next to a bone that it may once have been attached to. And that bone sits dressed in fried shallots, chillies and other aromatics. We take a moment to admire the plating before our lovely waiter offers to complete the dish for us.
The bone is moved aside to reveal a bed of crunchy noodles beneath. The wagyu is forked gently, so that is separates into melting morsels. The curry sauce – which had been waiting in a little jug to one side – is poured onto the beef and noodles and sprinkled with the chillies and herbs. As our waiter lovingly combines the 4 elements our the dish, the scents wafting up from the plate are incredible.
The team at New Quarter down the road do Vietnamese food with an exciting modern twist
And it eats just as well.
The wagyu itself is rich and dissolves on the tongue. When mixed with the crispy noodles, bright herbs and the deep spiced warmth of the perfectly balanced curry, it is sublime.
Admittedly, we were pretty full by this point – especially at the last couple of dishes had been surprisingly rich.
With that in mind, we shared the Chocolate Brule Tart, Raspberry Mint Sorbet & Popcorn Powder ($17). Again, it was a triumph. The welcome sharpness of the sorbet with it’s finishing notes of mint the ideal foil to the dark and decadent tart.
Whatever the brule – chocolate vanilla or yuzu – to get that perfect crystalised topping, it helps to have a kitchen blow torch. They are also great if you’re a fan of Sous Vide Cooking. For more information and prices, click here.
Although we went a la carte, Kekou does a Feed Me Menu for $88pp. Friends who have gone with the Set Menu have been just as rhapsodic about the food choices as we were about our meal.
Needless to say, we are already planning a return visit to Kekou to give it a try.
If you eat at Kekou, it’s easy to blindsided by the brilliant Asian fusion food.
However, the venue is also a very appealing bar and has plenty to attract the social drinking fraternity.
Asian fare goes particularly well with beer and Kekou stocks a good selection of craft beers and ales. If wine is more your thing, the list again pays attention to the spice levels of the dishes.
And this is also true of the Cocktail Menu. There are some fun twists on the classic and clever little Asian additions. My Anti Hero ($22) married Correlejo Blanco Tequila, Lime, Wasabi & Tamarind Infused Agave into a spiky, fruity spin on a Margarita.
For organic spelt pizzas and plenty of the gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan amongst us, check out Farro Pizzeria just up the road.
Kekou is a genuinely exciting restaurant and I can’t help but feel that if it were in the CBD, far more people would be raving about it.
As it is, Flinders Lane’s loss is Richmonds’s gain.
With bold, strong flavours and some top quality produce, the kitchen is turning out some of the most exciting Asian fusion food in town.
Add in skilled bar staff, great service from door to table and a fashionably chic atmosphere and Kekou is the whole package.
Lunch at Kekou
If you’re in the neighbourhood between 12 & 3pm on Friday, Saturday or Sunday, why not nip into Kekou for lunch?
Location: 95 Swan St, Richmond, VIC 3121 Ph: (03) 9070 1194
Tones of copper, textural greys and plenty of design pizzaz make Kekou’s sister venue – Klae Restaurant – a glamorous place to eat.
Also in Richmond, but down on Swan Street, the shared DNA of the 2 stunning establishments is plain to see. Firstly, both are seriously cool and double as a hip bar, as well as a dinner spot. Both kitchens are overseen by the talented Oak Kunnalok. Lastly, both serve exciting Asian fusion food conjured from a palette that draws from Thailand, Japan, China and beyond.
Pop in for a refreshing State of Grace ($25) Cocktail – Thai Basil & Strawberry Infused Starward Two Fold, Peach, Champagne Acid & Vanilla Bitters. Stay for Korean-spiked San Choy Bow, Soy Bean, Crispy Rice Bibimbap & Lettuce ($25).
We guarantee you’ll be back for more.