Yakiniku Yokocho isn’t an obvious contender for our “Local Knowledge” series (we usually cover lesser-known eateries central to under-represented regional cuisines and cultures).
The restaurant’s in the CBD, it’s got a PR company, and the style of food it serves – Japanese barbeque – can be found all over Sydney. The reason we’re here, though, is because we’ve been told it’s different.
Most Sydney Korean and Japanese barbeque – or yakiniku, meaning grilled meats – joints serve the same things: the most accessible and premium cuts of meat alongside skewered vegetables, beer, clear spirits and various sides. But in Japan barbeque restaurants also serve horumon, the discarded bits, such as beef tongues splayed out next to rows of pork belly, sizzling short ribs, charred beef tripe and as many vegetables as there are unfashionable cuts of meat.
Eating organs, sinew and facial features isn’t popular in this city, but Kazuki Arai, Yakiniku Yokocho’s head chef, doesn’t care. He wants to bring his experiences of Japan to Sydney.
His menu includes chicken gizzards (savoury and crunchy, almost like a water chestnut, but meatier), pork intestines (meaty, subtly pungent and light in flavour), tripe (chewy, more textural than flavoursome), ox livers (very rich, and tender), tongues, and more. “Maybe some people think only Japanese people like this taste, but they'll change. Before, the first Japanese people opening restaurants served sashimi and people think, ‘Oh, they serve raw fish?’ But little by little they change their mind.”
Arai’s main inspiration for opening Yakiniku Yokocho was the kind of venue his grandpa owned. They’re called yokochos, small bars and eateries tucked away in the alleys of Japan’s big cities. “When I was in elementary school I was always with my grandpa, helping him cook. From that time, I wanted to be a chef,” he says.
It’s common for these venues to be booze-fuelled and inexpensive, serving dishes like barbequed meats and motsuni (a boiled-tripe and potato stew). “[Motsuni] is special in Japanese cuisine, people really like it,” says Arai.
Arai wants every morsel of meat served at his restaurant – whether a multi-marbled and butter-soft rib-eye steak, or a cut of tripe – to be eaten with beer, highballs, sake, shochu or maybe even a Red Eye (beer and tomato juice). He wants the environment to feel authentic, chaotic and welcoming, which is why he has put up imported signs, banners, flags and lanterns. “I want to focus on Japanese people, real Japanese culture,” he says.
Shop 9.08, Level 9/501 George Street
(02) 9261 3131
Sun to Wed 12pm–2.30pm, 5pm–10pm
Thu to Sat 12pm–2.30pm, 5pm–11pm
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.
This article first appeared on Broadsheet on August 29, 2018. Menu items may have changed since publication.