If you’re not Japanese or you’ve not spent much time in the lower north shore, you’ve probably never heard of Tin Jung Shea and Mitomo Somehara. They’re the duo who brought Japan’s loose drinking culture to Crows Nest with Yakitori Yurippi and Tachinomi YP.

Their latest venture – now including long-time Yurippi customer Chris Wu as their third amigo – brings the same relaxed, snack-and-drink, izakaya-style atmosphere to Darling Square, but this time they’ve got much more space to play with. They’ve taken over the Bang Bang site and have used that extra room to add karaoke to the mix. There’s also two tatami rooms (a shoes-off space where you sit on floor mats next to a low table), a long bar specialising in Japanese highball cocktails, and a bigger kitchen that focuses on two Japanese recipes: karaage (battered and deep-fried chicken) and gyoza (dumplings).

The two widely loved drinking foods may appear on almost every Japanese menu in Sydney, but they’re rarely made from scratch and given the same amount of thought they are here. “In Japan every restaurant is focused; they specialise in one thing and they do it well. We believe in that,” says Shea.

But don’t think of this as a fried chicken diner a la Butter, Thirsty Bird or Belles opposite. It’s a bar inspired by the izakayas (casual, tavern-style venues) Shea fell in love with in Tokyo’s Asakusa. “There’s a street where they sell ninja stuff and kimonos, and there’s a famous shrine, but as soon as you go off the main tourist street there’s a street [Hoppy-Dori] of bars. They’re very local, very vibrant,” says Shea. “Hoppy is a beer-flavoured cordial salarymen drink; we're going to get some in.”

If you want to truly embrace the izakaya experience, start with a beer and a bowl of salted edamame or wasabi octopus. As the night progresses, move to highballs of Suntory whisky and soda, and a plate of salt-vinegar-and-garlic karaage. (A quick side note: the team heard Suntory was ending their export of Kakubin whisky to Australia so they bought every bottle they could – $10,000 worth.) The next step is probably buttered, cheesy corn with sake. “The end of the cycle is Japanese congee or fried noodles. Those items are called shime – to finish,” says Somehara. It’s the last carby push to get you home.

In between those things, ask Shea and Somehara about the secret menu. “It's written on the back but only in Japanese,” says Shea. Somehara says it’s an ura menu. “[At izakayas] you say to the owner, ‘Hey master, what do have today’?”

If you want a quick drink you can stand at the bar, but if you want to linger, head to the tatami and private back rooms. There are also bar stools under illuminated Japanese box-light advertisements. “What's important to us, we’ve always been about people. We’re very local and atmosphere focused,” says Shea. “We always encourage our customers to mingle, which is a lot easier at Tachinomi because of the small space, but that’s still really important to us here, too.”

Wu chimes in. “What we want is for two people to talk here and then maybe one day they can play tennis together.”

Fans of these guys will probably tell you the best thing about the bar isn’t the chicken, the highballs or vibe, but Shea, Somehara, Wu and their staff.

Nakano Darling
14 Steam Mill Lane, Haymarket
(02) 8957 4301

Hours:
Mon to Thu 5pm–11pm
Fri to Sat 4pm–11pm
Sun 4pm–10pm

nakanodarling.com.au

This article first appeared on Broadsheet on December 11, 2019. Menu items may have changed since publication.