“There’re so many restaurants opening that you have to have a point of difference…or several points,” laughs Chris Barge.
It’s a shrewd observation, one brought home by the countless visual layers that surround us. There are custom painted skate decks suspended in a lattice pattern from the ceiling, a cascade of aluminium origami, a motorised and backlit specials board, not to mention a 10-meter-long concrete bar complete with purple neon lights.
These are the entertaining and unique surrounds of PaperPlanes, the new sushi-cocktail bar created by brothers and hospitality partners Matt, Chris and Tim Barge as the Bondi follow-up to their popular Kings Cross eatery LL Wine & Dine. But you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in Harajuku, given the distinctive feel of the place.
“We wanted something a bit tongue in cheek,” says Matt as he and Chris exchange nods. “Like LL, where we have porn on our wall.”
There’s no porn here, but there is a sense of fun, from the giant Bearbrick bear towering above the beer taps, to the silhouettes of Astro Boy and the DJ decks in the centre of the bar. Matt and Chris (brother Tim is busy elsewhere) are prone to finishing one another’s sentences, just proving that they’re on the same page. But even so, they each have a different take on their hospitality trajectory.
For Chris, it’s all about the roots of this current venture. For Matt, it’s the next step. “We wanted something vibrant and colourful, interactive and edgy, and for people to walk in and say ‘this is different’,” says Chris, while Matt passes over a copy of the origami-style menu.
It’s clear enough that the brothers found their inspiration in the bustle of Japan’s biggest city. “It was the vibrant Tokyo atmosphere that blew us away,” enthuses Chris. “All the bright lights and energy that you get from the place, we just wanted to package it up and put it into a restaurant. So it’s like walking across that big crossing in Shibuya.”
Matt nods in agreement while Chris fishes out his mobile phone to find a video of their trip. “That’s 11 o’clock at night in winter,” he urges. “Look at all those people and all those neon signs. That’s what we’re trying to capture, the colour and energy.”
Matt takes it a step further. “But really, we were after the idea of Tokyo-pop, the essence of it rather than actual Tokyo-pop itself. We didn’t want all the cliché anime – more the energy and the colours. The silhouette of Tokyo, if that makes sense.”
What the boys came up with was a place that ties cocktails, sushi and music into one seamless experience, all behind one bar.
“We wanted everything to be on show and we wanted everything available for you to just sit back and enjoy,” says Chris, acknowledging the showmanship of the sushi chefs they saw while travelling.
So far, this vibrant and interactive sushi/sake/tunes combo has proven pretty popular, and it might be early days, but the brothers already have big plans, plotting to roll out the PaperPlanes concept internationally. “We want to have a really good crack at it, a good roll of the dice,” says Matt. “We’re not shy about it. We want to be the next Nobu.” Both the guys grin.
But while they might be planning for Shanghai, they’re still perfecting the formula here first. So as you’re flipping open your origami-style menu to choose from kushiyaki chicken skewers or tuna tataki and sipping on a Harajuku Girl cocktail or a Tokyo-Pop (complete with popping candy rim), stay tuned for seasonal specials or Blue Monday degustations, where the food won’t just be matched to sake, but will have a hand-picked playlist to compliment the dishes.
It’s a point of difference, and oh-so sugoi.
The Beach House Complex Shop 15/178 Campbell Parade, Bondi
(02) 9356 8393
Mon to Thu 5pm–midnight
Fri & Sat noon–midnight