We’re told the lunch special is salmon, $17. “Sure, we’ll take one.” Before the salmon arrives we’re served a couple of mini dishes, including a cup of miso and a soft dumpling swimming in an earthy gravy. Then the salmon arrives: crisp skinned, perfectly soft and surrounded by lots of emulsions, dots and textures. It looks like it could have come out of kitchen charging $100 a head. That, we learn, is the plan.
Yoshitaka Kojima (ex-Dinner by Heston in Melbourne), Arioki Kondo (ex-Yebisu) and Shige Noda (ex-Shoya in Melbourne) want to reproduce the techniques and innovations of the fine-dining world, but with the prices and atmosphere of an izakaya (an informal Japanese pub) – albeit an up-market one. “I’ve been in fine dining for a long time,” says Kojima. “Sometimes people just want to go back to izakaya-style dining where you can come and drink beer, shoju and have a few bits of food.”
When we say up-market, we mean there’s no rowdy izakaya-style edge, nor the bottom-of-the-barrel prices to match. Instead there’s a soundtrack of jazz, dimmed lighting, emerald leather banquette seating with simple timber tables in the front, and a bar overlooking the kitchen. Kondo says the design they were going for was an old-style French restaurant that’s been given a modern edge.
Kojima’s clever menu is full of ideas. Most dishes are based on recognisable Japanese recipes, but with added flair thanks to the molecular gastronomy influences he picked up at Dinner by Heston. “It’s a bit Japanese in flavour, but still with French technique,” he says.
There’s a technique-heavy seven-course degustation for a reasonable $65, but there are also beer-friendly bar snacks such as fried chicken with yuzu mayo, for those wanting a more classic izakaya experience. If you’re solo at the bar you can still get one of the deg courses, or you can opt for a drink (a Japanese whisky seems appropriate) and maybe a fillet of Tasmanian salmon seasoned with dehydrated cherry-blossom salt, wasabi cream and tororo kombu (shredded kelp that’s softened in vinegar).
Shop 1, 16–30 Bunn Street, Pyrmont
(02) 9518 8852
Mon to Wed 6pm–9pm
Fri 11.30am–3pm, 5.30pm–10pm
Sat 12pm–3pm, 5.30pm–10pm