There’s a new ramen dish in Sydney. It has a large piece of ox-tail in it, a scattering of coriander on top and it smells like a peppery pho. It’s part Japanese, part Spanish, part Hawaiian and only found in one place – Spanish Sakaba.
The creator of the dish is Iwao Yamanishi, a chef and restaurateur who was last seen at Big Stone Tapas, North Sydney’s former Spanish-Japanese fusion joint. He’s playing with similar ideas at his new Willoughby restaurant-bar, but here it’s packaged differently. For drinks, there’s a backbar with bartender Yasuhi Ueda mixing options such as a shoju, soda water and a Gari Gari (a popular Japanese ice-cream brand) icy pole.
Visually, there’s Showa-period posters and a grey-blue colour scheme with Catalan tiles on the wall, resulting in a vibe somewhere between late-night drinks-and-snacks and a family restaurant. Yamanishi says the philosophy is a marriage between sakaba-style (a more family-orientated version of izakaya) dining and Spanish tapas, two food cultures he believes have a similar style.
That doesn’t mean this is a fusion restaurant – some dishes are certainly an obvious blend of the two cuisines, such as the sushi-rice paella – but most dishes are either typical tapas or sakaba dishes. Some tables will have a sangria jug, a plate of yakitori skewers and raw beef tataki with dashi jelly. Others will sport chorizo, croquettes and sake. There’s also a short menu of modern sushi, Spanish and local wines by the glass and even gin-based slushy cocktails.
That’s all at dinner time. If you want a soft-bun beef-katsu burger or a bowl of ramen, either Yamanishi’s saimin-inspired (a Hawaiian dashi-based noodle soup) oxtail broth or one of the specials (last week it was a rich chicken and iberico ham creation served with fermented garlic and peppery yuzu-paste) you’ll have to visit during the day.
537 Willoughby Road, Willoughby
(02) 9967 0575
Mon to Fri 11.30am–2.30pm, 5.30pm–10pm