How do you make Sydney, where there’s a sushi joint on every main street and in every shopping centre, excited about a new Japanese restaurant?
Chef Keita Abe (previously of Toko and Mamasan) has the answer: open an eatery devoted to yakitori. The dimly lit space is tiny, seating just 25 people. Huge portraits of Japanese cooks are painted onto the walls, and the scent of grilling meat winds its way through the restaurant, out onto the street. Abe has modelled Chaco Bar on the yakitori restaurants found in the laneways of his native city, Fukuoka, located on the southern island of Kyushu.
For the uninitiated, yakitori is skewers of grilled meat, and occasionally vegetables. “Literally, yaki means grill and tori means bird, so it means grilled bird,” explains Abe.
“If you go to the back streets behind the station at Fukuoka, there are lots of yakitori places,” says Abe. “They’re the image of this place.”
While there are a number of places in Sydney that do yakitori, the delicious grilled skewers usually share the menu with the standard offering of sushi and sashimi.
“We have only 10 to 12 otsumami (small dishes),” says Abe. “But we are mainly selling skewers. That’s why people are so crazy about us.”
Chaco Bar is currently BYO until their license comes through, and takes a “whole-bird” approach that has diners crowding it every night. As well as common cuts of meat such as pork belly and chicken wings, you’ll find chicken hearts, tails, livers, heart pipes, gizzard and gristle skewered and grilled at the small Darlinghurst restaurant.
“Raw” and “earthy” is how Abe describes Chaco Bar’s offal-heavy yakitori offering. “We’re choosing new ingredients for an Australian clientele, but it seems like it’s working,” he says.
The chef acknowledges that opening a restaurant with a menu full of offal was risky. “It was my big headache in starting the business, but people really like it. It sounds really yucky, but it’s actually healthier than meat, with less cholesterol.”
Abe predicts that “guts” will be the next big ingredient in Australian cuisine, and judging by the popularity of dishes such as Wagyu tongue at Chaco Bar, he could be right.
Highlights off the grill include spicy tuna belly tataki with pig’s ear, and snapper sashimi with Tasmanian fresh truffle, which sometimes appears on the entrée menu.
Chaco Bar also serves ramen between 12pm-2pm Wednesdays to Saturdays.
238 Crown Street, Darlinghurst
(02) 9007 8352
Wed to Sat 12pm-3pm (ramen, limited to 30 bowls)
Mon to Sat 6pm–10.30pm