Some of Sydney’s best ramen and yakitori comes out of a tiny kitchen at Darlinghurst’s Chaco Bar. Keita Abe, the venue’s owner and chef, has always said he could do both better if he just had a bit more space. This September he’ll get his wish when Chaco Bar splits in two.
The yakitori half of Chaco Bar will move into a new space – the former Society di Catania site, which before that was perhaps better known as Jimmy Liks – on Victoria Street in Potts Point. There’s no ramen served here, just an enhanced range of Fukuoka-style skewers and snacks. “In Tokyo, yakitori just means ‘grilled bird’ but in Fukuoka it is a cuisine. There are no franchises there; all the restaurants have one owner. The level [of food] is really high.”
That’s the same vibe and menu Abe wants to create in the new space. He’ll have the charred chicken thighs, pork belly and saucy offal bits he’s known for at Chaco Bar, just with more options. One important difference for Abe is using Japanese-style mature chickens. “In Japan it's called Jidori. It's everywhere. It is a bit chewy but not tough, much more umami. I don’t like watery chicken. I like this.”
He’s waited four years to evolve the restaurant because he couldn’t find a space. “It's really hard to get the right premises in Sydney to get approval for charcoal – almost impossible,” he says. “It has [to allow] charcoal [because] charcoals tell you everything, it gives flavour.”
With help from designer Matt Darwon (Toko, Automata), Abe will transform the Potts Point space. The single long table will remain but an island grill will be installed (a cooker with a table and chairs around it), along with an open kitchen counter.
The original Chaco Bar will ditch its yakitori and be renamed Chaco Ramen in honour of its new ramen and snack-only menu. If everything goes as Abe says, it’ll give both venues a chance to improve and innovate, something that was hard given the confines of the Darlinghurst kitchen. “We have to work at 140 per cent here to produce two cuisines,” Abe says. “I've done my best. I can't do any better, so that's why we're cutting it in half. I’m sick of being in a small kitchen. Now we can expand our offering and get better.”
Chaco Bar Potts Point is slated to open in late September or early October. When it opens Chaco Bar Darlinghurst will become Chaco Ramen.