For Keita Abe, Chaco Bar Potts Point is the realisation of a dream that began at Chaco Bar Darlinghurst in 2014 – to introduce more nuanced Japanese food to Sydney, namely the yakitori traditions from his hometown of Itoshima, just south of the city of Fukuoka.
Abe’s new Potts Point venue might feel like a version of the original, smoky, yakitori-slinging concrete-and-timber bunker in Darlinghurst, but it’s bigger and better.
For those who have never been to Chaco Bar, its speciality is Fukuoka-style charcoal-grilled skewers of chicken thigh, hearts, gizzards, liver, pork belly, lamb shoulder, zucchini and hunks of miso eggplant.
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There are simple sides, such as tsukune (Japanese meatballs served with semi-boiled egg for dipping); fish-roe topped rice bowls; sashimi; sizzling gyoza; as well as beer and shochu (a clear spirit). When the original Chaco opened, it redefined Japanese skewered meats for local Sydney diners, and it’s continued to set the benchmark with its exemplary food. Serving liver and hearts was bold, but Abe won people over with his skill.
The small Darlinghurst site will remain open – it’s now called Chaco Ramen, with a focus on the dish it used to occasionally serve. Abe says that’s similar to what happens in Japan, where restaurants specialise in one particular dish or style of cooking.
While Abe’s food is excellent, he says he can’t perfectly replicate Fukuoka flavours because the ingredients will always taste different due to climate and other environmental factors. “I'm sorry to say, food from my region has the best produce – better than Tokyo,” he says.
And they couldn’t – or rather didn’t – want to replicate the atmosphere or decor of the restaurants back home. “Fukuoka’s style is laneway – a dirty style, with small counters. It’s usually very smoky with sticky tables,” Abe says. “We wanted this to be a step up, not too far, but we still need it to be ‘Chaco Bar the Fukuoka Experience’.”
The drinks menu at the new Chaco is a step up from the blue-collar bars of Abe’s youth, too. Kei Tokiwa is running a list of mixed-style sakes, highball cocktails and a small wine list with a wide, regional spread.
Chaco has moved into the space once home to Jimmy Liks, then Society di Catania. Abe and local designer Matt Darwin have retained the divided layout, but given it a slightly new look. On one side there are small tables, a cocktail bar and stool seating, and on the other, two long, dark timber tables. Linking them at the back of the restaurant is an island grill that Abe and Chris Xin (ex-Tetsuya’s and Rockpool Dining Group) work on. In front of that is a bar where a lucky few diners can watch the action.
“Yakitori shops have to be open – that is my dream. In Darlinghurst I couldn’t do it. I was just a chef who couldn’t afford [that style of] space. For five years I thought I want to do it,” Abe says. “Now we start. This is real, serious yakitori and we want to share that with the world.”
186–188 Victoria Street, Potts Point
Thu to Sat 5.30pm–10pm
Tue, Wed, Sun 5.30pm–9.30pm
This article first appeared on Broadsheet on December 9, 2019. Menu items may have changed since publication.