Remember Matsuri? For 27 years, the mid-range restaurant on the corner of Milligan and Hay streets was a dependable go-to for its affordable and accessible Japanese cooking, even if its floor-to-ceiling glass walls sometimes made diners feel like they were in their own Truman Show.
After laying vacant for four years, the high-profile site reopened this week as Nippon Bar & Kitchen, a polished 120-person Japanese restaurant inspired by the izakayas of Japan. The giant imitation sakura, or cherry blossom, tree bursting forth from the bar is undoubtedly the first thing you’ll notice – even if you’re just strolling past on Milligan Street – while the seating is a mix of sprawling booths and smaller tables wedged between comfortable cushioned armchairs. If you were looking for that low-key, dingy izakaya you stumbled on during your last ski trip to Niseko or Akakura Onsen, this probably won’t be it. But if you choose wisely from the menu, Perth Japanophiles have a decent chance of reliving holiday memories.
“We’re not here to educate, but to share knowledge and what we learned from Japan,” says head chef Jayson Blanas, a Filipino-born, Perth-raised chef who spent close to a decade cooking in Kobe and learning the finer points of Japanese cuisine. “What I’m trying to offer is homely flavours. Not something that people in Japan would cook at home, but those sorts of things they go out [to izakayas] to eat.”
As is the case at most Perth Japanese restaurants, the kitchen offers a mix of Japanese standards – sashimi, teriyaki chicken, gyoza – alongside deeper cuts from the country’s vast repertoire of regional specialties. There’s the izakaya favourite of grilled mackerel pike, seasoned with salt and served with a hillock of grated daikon. In addition to chicken-thigh yakitori, the kitchen also serves excellent Nagoya-style grilled chicken-wing skewers (tebasaki) that feature crisp and juicy splayed wingettes. Dense, grilled onigiri (rice balls wrapped in nori seaweed) are another highlight, along with the amberjack collar that’s crisp of skin and succulent of flesh. Nippon Bar & Kitchen is also the first place in Perth I’ve seen source live, whole Tasmanian sea urchin. There’s a lot to explore, including a selection of lunch sets.
Unsurprisingly, the drinks menu puts Japan’s best-known alcohols front and centre. There’s a good edit of sake, available in full and smaller sized bottles, while the Japanese whisky selection runs from salaryman favourites to aged, hard-to-find expressions of Suntory classics Yamazaki (18 years old), Hibiki (17 years old) and Hakushu (12 years old). All the house-pour spirits are Japanese, and Japanese spirits feature prominently in the house cocktails. There’s a healthy selection of big-name Japanese beers – Asahi, Kirin, Sapporo – on tap. While the menu doesn’t dip into the emerging Japanese wine industry, the predominantly Australian wine list has been assembled to play nice with Japanese flavours.
Nippon Bar & Kitchen
Shop E1, QV1 Plaza, 250 St Georges Tce, Perth
(08) 6317 9672
Mon to Fri 11am–9.30pm