Yoko is a two-storey izakaya next door to owner Jonathan Barthelmess’s enormously popular Greca restaurant. Outside, a long line of riverside booths are offset by a beautiful bento box-inspired fit-out inside. Crisp American ash plywood hints at a sizeable kitchen and a bar area upstairs. Off to the side, a dispense bar sits backed by vintage-style fridges and a slushy machine, the venue’s heritage-listed warehouse frame peeking through with iron girders and oak beams.
Inside, a retro-futurist shade of yellow shows up as a highlight throughout – in the tiled dispense bar, a bit of veneer here and there, and the floor staff’s nifty shoelaces. Much of the venue’s colour instead comes through the clever lighting that glows red in the corners and shines bright from the hanging fluorescent bulbs above.
This is perhaps Barthelmess’s purest expression yet of his love for Japan, where he has an instalment of his enormously popular Sydney restaurant The Apollo. In particular, he’s looked to capture the atmosphere of Tokyo’s late-night vinyl bars.
Yoko Dining has about 70 seats outside, 50 inside and capacity for another 50 in the upstairs bar populated with large collections of sake, Japanese whisky and vinyl records along with various other knick-knacks. Pride of place is a pair of turntables, ready to spin tunes late into the night.
In the kitchen is Cho Cho San (another celebrated Barthelmess venue), Kisumé and Momfuku veteran Kitak Lee, backed up by Greca and Yoko executive chef Ben Russell. Lee’s dishes include whole steamed reef fish, charcoal chicken with sansho pepper, and toasted rice with spanner crab, edamame and tobiko. There’s also a raw section with beef tartare, scallops with silken tofu, and kingfish with sesame and kohlrabi. And a noodle and dumpling menu with spicy rice noodles, an organic soba noodle salad and mushroom gyoza.
For drinks there’s close to 150 wines with a bunch of drops available via Coravin. Upstairs there’s a collection of cocktail jugs, mocktails and yuzu slushies on offer.