Bang Bang’s commitment to authenticity is commendable. Covering the front is a battered roller door that always stays shut, giving it a hidden Tokyo back-alley vibe. Inside it’s all noise, kitsch and colour; there are pedestrian crossings and bike lanes painted on the floor, and murals of tattooed yakuza gangsters above the bar. Vintage light-box signs have been imported from Japan, and there are vending machines that only take yen.
This is a yokocho, the word for “alleyway” and for the small pubs and bars in the backstreets of big Japanese cities offering cheap snacks, drinks and good times.
“This is our expression of a back alley in Japan,” says Bang Bang general manager David Kim. “They are everywhere in big cities and small ones. People, especially ‘salarymen’ [Japanese white-collar, mid-level employees], go there to de-stress. This isn’t the fancy streets of Ginza, this is somewhere like a hiding place.”
The set-up makes Bang Bang look like many eateries in one. There’s a timber-cart counter with high stools. And glass karaoke rooms and quiet tatami-style rooms. Vintage neon-lit street signs shine above the tables. “Japan is the mecca for street signs. We got ours from an antique shop in Nagoya. Some are a little bit dirty, some of them are broken – it’s intentional. We didn’t want a brand-new ones,” Kim says.
Bang Bang artfully walks the line between gritty and new. “[In] the back alleys of Tokyo … there are small tables, counters [and] chefs cooking. You get beer at the front counter, you chat, chat, chat, and most people are eating shoulder to shoulder,” says Kim. “For Australia, we made it a little more fancy, a little more pretty.”
In Japan, most small eateries specialise in one type of dish. There are shops for yakitori (chicken skewers), katsu (fried chicken or pork cutlets) or soba noodles. At Bang Bang, everything – tempura, omelette, curry, sushi and sashimi – is made by head chef Kokubo Yuji (Nobu, Tokyo).
For a substantial lunch, opt for the omuyakisoba – an omelette filled with yakisoba (fried noodles) and vegetables doused in a rich, sweet soy sauce. For dinner, the seared-kingfish carpaccio comes with a vinaigrette with heat thanks to Sichuan peppercorns. There’s also a delicious array of sushi and sashimi, and the robata (grill) menu is outstanding. There are teriyaki prawns, scallops on the shell and a sizzling Wagyu rib eye with tangy Japanese barbeque sauce.
Most lunch dishes are individual serves, but dinner is izakaya-style (small plates), so come with a group so you can order the Bang Bang tebasaki, a tower of peppery-soy chicken wings.
A 10-page drinks menu shows Bang Bang is serious about its drinks. Imported Japanese beers sit alongside tinnies of local craft beer, and there are classic cocktails and shochu (rice spirit) citrus cocktails. Sake, plum wine and Japanese whisky are also available straight up or over ice, just like in Japan.
This article first appeared on Broadsheet on August 9, 2018. Menu items may have changed since publication.