It takes guts (or perhaps foolhardiness) to reopen with much the same strategy as a previous failed restaurant. But on the surface it seems that’s precisely what’s happened at Izy Izakaya.

Izy Izakaya is in the former space of Woollahra’s izakaya (a Japanese pub-style bar) Kenny Rens. It has the same moody interior and the same focus on the Japanese charcoal grill. You even have to pass by the takeaway sashimi and the poke bar to reach it.

It’s not a surprising move, though – the food at Kenny Rens was good, the fit-out was by the prolific Paul Kelly (Nu Bambu, The Smoking Panda) and that entrance is dramatic and fun. The only issue was the business lacked focus.

“They used to have three kitchens – the robata [grill], the sushi [counter] and hot food [came from] the back kitchen,” says new general manager Sebastien Dallee. “It was impossible to maintain for something as small as a 35-seat [restaurant].”

Izy Izakaya is leaner, and for the customer that means a more focused, thoughtful menu. It’s only a page long and although on first glance chef Jack New’s food (ex-Icebergs and Sokyo) might seem a little misplaced – we’re talking burrata, brioche lobster rolls and a take on garlic bread that he calls “umami bread” (made with black garlic and wild chives) – his modern Euro-Japanese fare deftly navigates disparate cuisines with an easy fluidity.

The food is still all about the robata, but each week the eatery champions a different wood. When Broadsheet visits, grape wood is burning on the wide countertop ceramic grill. Dishes such as kingfish with smoked mandarin, or charred pineapple bouillabaisse take on the sweetish smoky flavour. “Next week we’ve got a few game products like roo, so we’re using chestnut [wood],” says Dallee, who used to be co-owner of Bondi’s The Nine. “It’s remarkable how different the smoke is and how it affects the food and even the scent in the room.”

Even the cocktails take inspiration and ingredients from the grill. “We do some retro punches in vintage bowls with smoked mandarin, semillon, cava and white rum, all floated with a rubber duck. It’s kitschy and fun,” he says.

There’s a good list of sakes as well as Japanese whiskies – their smoky undertones play neatly off the food menu – and with the wine list, Dallee has concentrated on quality and value. “10 William is around the corner, [where] you could spend $90 on a bottle of wine. We didn’t want to do that. We wanted something more accessible where you could have a bar snack and a few glasses but it’s not so expensive you couldn’t come back a couple of times a week.”

Izy Izakaya
146 Queen Street Woollahra

(02) 9363 0219

Tue to Sat 5pm–late

This article first appeared on Broadsheet on November 6, 2018. Menu items may have changed since publication.