Sydneysiders are digging destinations that inspire long evenings of snacking and sipping, places like Paramount House’s Poly, Leichhardt’s Golden Gully Bar and Pyrmont’s Bar Clementine. The common thread? They walk the line between restaurant and wine bar.
The latest to join that list is Bondi’s Isabel, which its owners are calling a non-traditional izakaya – venues commonly found in the alleyways of Tokyo that are about the drinks and the food equally. This of course isn’t a new concept for Sydney, but they’ve recruited multi-award-winning bartender Kate McGraw (Lotus Dining Group) as bar manager to bring that idea to life.
Many of the cocktails aren’t standard, such as the Miso, which is made by burning miso and adding to it Pierre Ferrand 1840 (cognac), toasted sesame and the Australian native fruit quandong. Like innovative Scout bar in Surry Hills, Isabel is also making its own wines. At the moment it’s persimmon and rhubarb wine fermented and rested for 18 days, and McGraw says, “Fruit wine is something we will continually be adding to the list, with batches of everything being cellared to be released later in the year.”
Additionally, it has one of Australia’s largest collections of Japanese whiskies, alongside sakés and 40 or so bottles of wines made with minimal intervention. The kaiseki is a good option if you want to experience either four or six signature cocktails matched with food.
This is the second venue by Bondi’s Panama House team. After they moved the casual eatery to opposite the beach in 2018, co-owners Geraint Coles and Mitch Slattery were on the hunt for an additional space. They were already in talks with Michael Riley (Brisbane’s Milk Box Coffee and Tuckshop) and McGraw when they spotted the perfect spot near Panama House, also within the QT Hotel complex, and with views of Australia’s most famous beach.
Like a traditional izayaka, the menu features a range of yakitori and kushiyaki, meats on sticks cooked over binchotan charcoal on a robata grill.
McGraw’s front-of-house team includes wait staff from the likes of Northern Beaches restaurant Bert’s, which is part of mega Sydney hospitality group Merivale. The interiors (designed in-house by Coles and implemented by Oro Design) play with local timbers, brass and marble accents alongside bespoke furniture crafted by Rory Unite (responsible for the custom pieces at The Boathouse Group and Harbord Diggers project).
“The vibe is casual and fun, but also there's a super knowledgeable backbone to all of our service. We've spent about two months going in-depth with our team about cocktails, spirits, wine and saké and I'd bet that there aren't many questions people would ask any member of the team that will go unanswered,” McGraw says.
L103, 180–186 Campbell Parade, Bondi Beach
Wed to Fri 4.30pm–12am