The energy is always high at Token, the new Japanese izakaya-style restaurant on Toorak Road, whether you’re there for a work lunch, knock-off drinks or a late-night feast. There’s an eclectic playlist booming in the background – with the occasional Kylie Minogue hit thrown in – and local DJs every Friday and Saturday evening.
The restaurant is the ninth venue from Darling Group, which now owns top brunch spots Top Paddock and Higher Ground and recently renovated Sorrento hotspot Stringers. It’s a project that’s been two years in the making, inspired by the team’s travels to Asia.
“We wanted to create something fun for South Yarra that reflects the neighbourhood, which is very lively, energetic and casual,” Darling Group’s head of marketing Chris Seoud tells Broadsheet.
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The space is split into two areas with two open kitchens. At the front, find a brightly tiled raw bar where you can sit and watch the sushi chef at work. Things heat up at the back, where it’s all about flames, smoke, charcoal and a centrepiece custom-made binchotan yakitori grill.
There are plenty of nods to traditional Japanese izakaya, from low tables to Japanese-imported tiles from Nagoya Mosaic-Tile Co. Surrounding both bars are sleek sand-coloured booths, marble walls and striking timber furniture by Mark Tuckey.
Darling Group’s executive chef of restaurants Ashly Hicks oversees the food offering alongside ex-Nobu Melbourne and Ichi Ni Izakaya chef Jun Sun.
At the raw bar, expect three types of made-to-order temaki (including a moreish spicy miso tuna number wrapped in nori); citrusy hiramasa kingfish; delicate beef tataki; and caviar service. Over at the grill, there are crisp tempura enoki mushrooms; jumbo king prawn skewers; and twice-cooked pork belly chashu kushiyaki.
Hicks says the team is drawing from the culinary tradition of Japanese yakitori, and the venue’s custom binchotan yakitori grill infuses dishes with a distinct smokiness and depth of flavour.
Standout mains include a Japanese riff on steak frites (Black Opal Wagyu covered in Japanese sansho pepper sauce – ideal for fry-dipping), flame-licked charcoal chicken with shaved iceberg lettuce, and rice gnocchi in miso butter. For dessert, try the miso masu: a creamy tiramisu made with brown-butter whisky.
There’s also a killer cocktail list that blends vibrant ingredients with elegant Japanese flavours. The signature is the house Martini, made with katsuobushi-infused Never Never Triple Juniper gin, umeshu and pickled nori oil. A more refreshing pick is a fruity highball, with fermented amazake (sweet sake) and water kefir. Plus, premium sakes, beer and local and international wines.
151 Toorak Road, South Yarra
Daily 5pm – Late