We walk into Tachinomi YP at 10.30pm on a Tuesday. It’s tiny, just two benches sandwiched between a poster-covered wall and a bar so covered in trinkets, games and bottles it could be mistaken for a Japanese thrift shop. Oddly, there is no one behind the bar or in the kitchen. There are four people here, all of them playing a drinking game. At least it looks like one – it’s all in Japanese. All we understand is the laughter and red cheeks.
Half an hour later three more people have arrived. One drinks a solo beer, another is talking to two people he’s never met before. Now there are two people behind the bar and neither of them work here. If you’ve ever been to a tachinomi (a standing bar) in Japan, this feels exactly like one of those. If you haven’t, it’s like being at a fading house party: there are a few groups of friends, and though not everyone knows each other, everyone has drunk enough to get along.
The hosts here are Tin Jung Shea and Mitomo Somehara, both versed in the art of casual bartending from their other venue, Yakitori Yurippi, a small yakitori bar up the road. They admit they had no intention of opening another venue – running Yurippi was hard enough – but around a year ago they saw this tiny space with a chest-high bar already installed, and “straight away we thought tachinomi bar”, they say, almost in sync.
“We just wanted somewhere to go for a drink with our staff after we closed [Yurippi],” says Somehara. Since then they’ve been focused on crafting a classic tachinomi experience. “A lot of tachinomi bars are very messy, because they’re so small you can't lay everything out all nice and neat,” Somehara tells Broadsheet. “Everything is all over the place, but everyone knows where everything is, because they're regulars.”
That’s why the bar is covered in knick-knacks, and the back wall is stocked with Mitomo’s girlfriend’s grandma’s undrinkable antique whisky collection. It’s why everyone drinks beer and shoju on the rocks, and why the food menu is populated with cheap and easy snacks, such as $5 TKG bowls (the Japanese dish tamago kake gohan, just rice, egg and soy), edamame, Japanese canned fish (there are bars dedicated to canned food in Japan), pickles, karaage chicken and cups of Japanese instant ramen.
“If you want to really experience this, come on a weeknight,” says Shea. “Friday and Saturday can be really chaotic. Then it's more like a Sydney bar. Monday to Thursday is when the strange Crows Nest characters come in. You’ll chat to people you've never met.
“That’s been the highlight for me. I’ve made a lot of friends here. Like these people behind the bar. It’s really relaxed, just like Japan. People are very welcome.”
At Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday lunchtimes, Tachinomi has a completely different vibe. Forget the red-faced drinkers and the loose vibe. Forget the shoju taps, the cup noodles and the beer. Lunchtime at Tachinomi is Ryo Shimizu’s domain, and Shimizu isn’t a barman, he’s a ramen chef. Well, he is now. Shimizu started making ramen for staff meals at Yakitori Yurippi, where he was working the grill.
“I had no ramen experience, and no knowledge, but I like making ramen,” he says. It didn’t seem to matter: Somehara, Shea and the Yurippi staff kept eating his ramen, loving it and encouraging him to make more.
They tasted more variants than they can remember – soy, miso, pork, chicken, sometimes with shin bones, sometimes with other bones, sometimes with extra flavours – but every time their thoughts returned to Shimizu’s tonkotsu ramen (made with pork bones).
Shimizu says the simplest broths have the most expression. If you use flavour enhancers, quick ramen pastes, MSG or anything unnatural, all ramens will taste the same. But a tonkotsu made with just bones, garlic and water will always have a unique flavour. And that’s the only thing Shimizu serves, $12 bowls of immensely rich, collagen-packed, ice-coffee-coloured broth topped with torched chashu (pork), bamboo shoots and fungus. It’s as basic and excellent as they come.
In the future Shimizu might introduce ramen made with tuna bones, and maybe a don topped with the same torched chashu as on the tonkotsu. But, he tells us, maybe it’s best to keep it as just one thing. Well, as long as it works, he says.
One more thing. Make sure to clean up after yourself. Those cloths in front of you, they’re to wipe up your station. Your bowls, they get dropped off at the kitchen counter.
“It's really fun to see Aussies interacting with this [Japanese-style] environment. Wiping up, bringing their bowls back,” says Shea.
Shop 1, 20 Burlington Street, Crows Nest
Mon to Wed 11am–2pm
Mon to Wed 6pm–12am
Thu & Fri 11.30am–12am
This is another edition of Broadsheet’s “Local Knowledge” weekly series, where Nick Jordan explores the eateries at the heart of Sydney’s different cultural communities. Read more here.