The Mona Vale dining scene is hotting up with not just the opening of Mona Social this week, but with a new ramen restaurant thanks to the Cafe Monaka team.

For those outside of Mona Vale who haven’t had the pleasure of going to Cafe Monaka yet, their traditional “Asagohan” Japanese style breakfast is legendary around here.

Not seen in many Sydney cafes, let alone on the Beaches, this brekkie is made up of steamed rice, miso soup, grilled salmon marinated in shio-koji (fermented rice), edamame tamagoyaki (egg omelette), kobachi (seasoned vegetables), and tsukemono (pickles). And, it’s delicious.

Cafe Monaka’s owners, Fuminori Bun Fukuda (Bun) and Eriko (Ellie) Fukuda, take their food seriously. Bun has experience in traditional Japanese restaurants as well as Northern Beaches restaurants such as Pilu and as Head Chef at The Boathouse Group cafes and Moby Dicks function venues. And Ellie is a graduate of a top culinary school in Japan and has had plenty of experience including well renowned 3-Hatted restaurants in Japan.

We spoke to Lisa Fukuda, to find out what we can expect when their new ramen restaurant, Menya Monaka opens, and we already can’t wait. Think: homemade ramen noodles, a sake bar, authentic Tokyo style decor, and more of their delicious food.

Cafe Monaka is super popular, did you ever think it would take off the way it did? 

I think we really just got lucky with Cafe Monaka in every aspect. With the location, we just happened to open up across from my brother’s school. It’s a little hidden and unassuming, but we figured parents need a coffee after school drop off, and there aren’t many Japanese shops aren’t around here so, ‘why not give it a go?’

The starting team and current team seven years later is pretty much exactly the same. We have been lucky enough to create a team with family, friends and customers. I think this consistency also adds to us having such a tight knit feel.

 

Regulars have been a massive thing and I think we’re just lucky that Mona Vale has such a good community. I don’t think we would have survived all the COVID-19 lockdowns if it wasn’t for Mona Vale. As soon as the rules lifted, it was the same people that came back and kept us alive.

We have been lucky enough to feature in some media articles for our teas and Japanese breakfast, which added to our popularity early on. Weekends and Fridays are usually people who find us through media outlets travel to try our food and teas.

I keep repeating luck because it really is people like you that reach out to us at a great time and showcase our place to a wider audience, which has added to the success of our business. We now have consistency after a rocky first couple of years which is probably why we were open to the potential for a new shop!

We can’t wait for the new spot open. Can you explain what the name means? 

We wanted to keep “Monaka” because people know us for it, and we’re hoping it will attract a similar crowd as the cafe.

Monaka (“Mona” for Mona Vale and “Ka” is the Japanese character for household/family) means a lot considering we are a family business, and we are part of the Mona Vale community. We have built a Monaka family (staff and customers included) and wanted to pass on the baton for dinner. And “Menya” translates to noodle shop as we will be making our own ramen noodles in-house.

We have kind of diverted from our initial idea to just do ramen, as we see a gap in the Mona Vale market for a nice, Japanese dinner and drinks spot. We think the North-Northern Beaches is lacking in this area, but more are up and coming and we want to be part of it.

Why did you choose now to open? Was it the space that came up? Looking for a new challenge? 

Much in the same way we didn’t necessarily go looking for a space for Cafe Monaka, the new spot just came up right before Christmas and our family sat on the idea for months. But I think we were all ready for a new challenge.

Bun explained it to me as the best kind of stress! He loves seeing his ideas come to life regardless of how hard the initial stages are. I remember seeing the cafe go from ideas on paper and an empty space to being transformed into the cosy space it is now in the course of a few months. Now seeing all the mockups, blueprints and scribbled out menu ideas is so exciting knowing it will all soon be real.

Bun and the Cafe Monaka team outside their new venue, Menya Monaka

We have always had the dream to do a dinner spot. The existing space we have at Cafe Monaka doesn’t allow for dinner service as it’s in a residential block. And yes you’re so right; we have had so many customers asking why we don’t do dinner! The first couple of years though, we definitely did not have the capacity to do a full days service, and now just happened to be good timing since we are established as a cafe and the space popped up around the corner.

What can we expect from the new restaurant?

We want to be a space that people can come on a weekly basis, but also feel like it can be for a special occasion.

The space itself will be very minimal. We have ideas for the interiors inspired from Japanese restaurants you’d find in Tokyo, rather than a Japanese restaurant you’d find in Sydney – if that makes sense!

We have a full bar going in, a sake display, counter seating, also a noodle machine coming from Japan, so Sydney can have the real deal, just like you’d find in Japan. The plan for the moment is to have a display area so customers can also see the noodles being made.

We are working with Giant Designs (the team behind Bar Infinita) for the interior, who are also a regular at the cafes out of pure luck!

Are you able to share any menu items? Or more on the food you’ll be serving up? 

Ramen will feature – especially for lunch, we will be focusing on different ramen varieties which I think is so popular but missing in the Northern Beaches food scene. Dinner will be noodle dishes plus more shared plates, nibbles and our full bar with a sake focus.

We say the same thing at the cafe quite often, but we won’t be serving sushi! We want it to be known that Japan has more to offer than sushi!

When is the launch date? 

The build is yet to begin! We’re hoping before Christmas, and maybe September or October.

Anything else you’d like to share with our community? 

We are beyond excited for this! We have had nothing but support so far! We have “soft launched” the news on our Instagram and have been slowly spreading the news at the cafe.

I hope that Menya Monaka can be a spot people think of when they ask themselves what’s on for dinner tonight. One of those restaurants that’s a staple or on rotation for the Northern Beaches. It sounds ambitious I know, but we have to dream big!

Cafe Monaka

Shop 2/24 Waratah street, Mona Vale

Open: Mon to Sat 8am ~ 3pm

Instagram: @cafe.monaka

Menya Monaka (coming soon!)

Instagram: @menya.monaka

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