In a traditional Japanese house, the tokonoma is the “alcove” that forms a spiritual focal point of the house, displaying incense or seasonal flowers. Fittingly named, the concrete canvas of the newly opened Tokonoma in the CBD contains few but important elements of traditional beauty. Tokonoma’s custom-made concrete brick stack forms a bar that is lit up from below by spotlights, while selections of Hiroshige’s 100 views of Edo prints hang on the walls.
A typical “basement” restaurant in Japan served as inspiration for Paul Birtwistle and Matt Yazbek. “There is a restaurant called Maru in the Omotesando area of Tokyo which really shows what young chefs are doing in Japan. We really love these little basement sites where you don’t have an understanding of what is going on from the outside,” says Birtwistle. “The food is immaculate and the colour palate is neutral.” While the original Toko on Crown Street works on establishing a “consistent product” that can be enjoyed year round, Tokonoma Sydney is dynamic. “You might come here a year later and only see 20 per cent of the menu being the same,” says Birtwistle.
A bowl of warm edamame with smoked lime salt is the perfect accompaniment to a beer, as is an oyster doused in tangy, salty tosazu vinegar. Venison carpaccio is served with nashi pear, potato air bags and a citric hit of yuzu kosh. Honey bug nigiri with foie gras and soy jelly gives a Franco-Australian flavour to an already impressive and diverse menu. Birtwistle’s personal favourite; cold soba with king crab and tobiko fish roe is a wonderful play on texture. The cocktail menu boasts an oriental rebirth of tradition, including an ume boshi manhattan and natsu mai tai.