If you were to deconstruct a bottle of Toji Sake and turn it into a restaurant, you’d get Eazy Peazy.
“[Japan has] two sides to it,” Sharlyn says. “There’s the minimal, beautiful – and the crazy, crazy world.” It’s those two sides the husband and wife team wants to embrace here.
To achieve the right look the Kobayashis called in the team from Carr Design (also behind the design of hotels Jackalope and United Places, the latter of which won the Hospitality Design Award at the 2019 Australian Interior Design Awards).
The clean lines of Toji sake bottles are replicated in the lights above that intersect at irregular angles, and a Japanese movie is projected onto the wall on the way to the bathroom. Both are designed with Tokyo's famous Shibuya Crossing in mind, one moment there are calm lines, the next there’s moving chaos.
The walls are hand-scraped concrete, designed to mimic the rice-raking process in sake brewing. The ceiling is pure white, textured like powdery snow, and the main dining area is divided by double-glass panes, each one half-filled with aquarium sand. Together they nod to the Asahi Mountain Range and the rivers that feed melted snow to the Toji Sake brewery.
At the end of the commanding concrete bar the same sand-filled windows create a frame for the kitchen, where chefs gather and bustle around smoky hibachi grills imported from Japan. Heading up the kitchen is chef Dan Chan, formerly of Hong Kong’s Yardbird, which is known for its yakitori skewers and hibachi grilled meats.
Chan brings with him (with permission) Yardbird’s Yuba Gyoza recipe, which is more like a sausage roll than the dumpling you might expect. Duck mince comes wrapped in tofu skin, then the little parcel is grilled and sliced into three. Crunchy outside, bold and meaty inside, it comes served with a sweet umeboshi (fermented fruit) dipping sauce.
Other highlights on the Small Stuff menu include smoked beef tartare loaded with paprika and served with lotus root chips. And slices of raw kingfish with dots of wasabi, pickled daikon and ponzu dressing.
The yakitori menu offers wings with salty yuzu spice, and tender thigh skewers complemented by charred leek that is juicy, smoky and a star in its own right. And while some may shy away from chicken hearts, to avoid them would mean missing out on delicate and flavourful offal, topped with crunchy fried garlic.
Larger plates include a chunk of grilled barramundi with miso and brown butter, and grain-fed Wagyu porterhouse served rare with beef fat butter, mayo and wasabi on the side. On the lunch menu there’s chicken ramen with black fungus and burnt garlic, and a katsu sando, and for dessert try the yuzu granita with black-sesame meringue.
Both Toji Sake variations – the junmai daiginjo and the junmai ginjo – are available by the glass or bottle. Yuta says he and Sharlyn want drinkers to view sake in a new way. That means no warm sake or shot glasses but rather chilled pours into wine glasses. Sake features on the cocktail menu, too: in the MSG (matcha, sake, gin) and a sake Margarita with a chilli-salt rim, created and named after Toshiro Mifune, the Japanese actor who played a Mexican in the 1962 film Ánimas Trujano.
For beer fans there are a couple of big-name Japanese brews and a concise list of easy-drinking locals such as Balter XPA, Two Birds Trail Blazer and Stomping Ground Pale Ale. With the exception of champagne, the wine list is all Australian and all feels familiar, without being too safe.
And the name? Sharlyn recalls Yuta saying, “Babe, it’s going to be easy,” when the two were talking about opening the restaurant. “We both said, ‘easy peasy’ at the same time. And it just stuck.”
108 Swan Street, Richmond
(03) 9965 1977
Mon to Wed 5pm–late
Thu to Sun 12pm–late
This article was first published on July 11, 2019. Menu items may have changed since publication.