Is this a yakitori bar in Tokyo? Nope. It's Chaco Bar in downtown Darlinghurst. You could be forgiven for thinking otherwise. Stools line the long communal table running down the middle of the room, hanging wooden boards list the menu in Japanese, and through the kitchen window and you can spot the yakitori chef standing over a smoky charcoal grill.
Diners at the communal table
Perhaps the great pinch-yourself moment is when you realise you're standing on the former site of Jazz City Diner. The American-style booth seats have been ripped out, replaced with stools and tables illuminated by the flicker of tea light candles. The kitchen is now separated from the main dining room by a windowed wall. On the shelves are giant bottles of homemade liquers, quietly infusing with all kinds of fruit including custard apple and quince. When they're ready, they'll be incorporated into new menu desserts, head chef Keita Abe (ex-Toko and Mamasan) tells us.
Possibly the world's tiniest chairs
The focus is on yakitori skewers here, meat on sticks cooked over charcoal and served with alcohol. They're still waiting on their liquor licence to be approved, so for now you can BYO for $4 per person. That means more money for food. Win.
There's a short range of other dishes, including sashimi, salads, dumplings and the requisite fluffy lotus steamed beans sandwich with pork that seem to be popping up everywhere.
Smoky edamame soy beans $7
We start with edamame soy beans. They've been briefly grilled over charcoal, lifted to a whole new level of tastiness with their blistered skins and faint smoky char.
Today's sashimi: raw Crystal Bay prawns, uni sea urchin roe with truffles and tuna $21
The sashimi offering changes every day. Tonight it's seared tuna, raw Crystal Bay prawns and a tiny pot of sea urchin roe crowned with truffle.
Uni sea urchin roe with truffles
The tuna has a melting softness and the prawns - while fresh - aren't particularly sweet. I'm a huge fan of the sea urchin roe, intensely buttery and briny, but think the bottled truffles are probably unnecessary.
Mounds of freshly grated wasabi and yuzu paste make for great seasoning additions. The lightly cooked okra is a winner too.
Spicy John Dory dumpling $14
The spicy John Dory dumpling has plenty of kick - perhaps not such a good combination when served at the same time as the sashimi. The tender fish filling is encased in slippy smooth dumpling skins. Grab one by the toothpick and swish it all around in the surrounding sauce spiked with chilli pepper.
Hatsu chicken heart $3/skewer
and butabara pork belly skewer $4/skewer
The skewers come out as they're cooked. It means they'll arrive in varying waves, each transferred to your serving plate draped with raw chunks of cabbage. The bed of cabbage is there for a reason. When you do need to cleanse the palate, you get the crunch of raw cabbage with all the meat juices too. Crazy good.
They shove everything onto skewers here, and that's half the fun. The chicken hearts are a joy to eat, expertly cooked so they're plump and tender. The pork belly is lusciously ribboned with fat, rendered out so you're left with melting mouthfuls of porcine deliciousness.
There are little saucers of seasoning on every table too. Go wild with salt flakes, togarashi chilli pepper and - in a strange twist that surprisingly works - chimichurri made with parsley, garlic and olive oil.
Chicken wings $4/2 pieces
Momo chicken thigh $4/skewer
Kawa chicken crackling $4/skewer
Fat is a barbecue's best friend. That means fillets of juicy chicken thigh threaded onto skewers and basted with a sweet yakitori glaze. Chicken crackling is amazing too, bits of chicken skin jammed into undulating waves of crispy goodness.
Tsukune housemade meatball with 62C egg $14 for two
The tsukune is made inhouse, a patty of seasoned chicken mince moulded along two skewers. The grilled meatballs are served with 62C eggs. Pierce those soft cooked eggs until the golden egg yolks flood the plate, then mop it all up with your soft, sweet and tender chicken meatball.
Ramu kata spicy lamb shoulder $4/skewer
There's a decent whack of cumin on the spicy lamb shoulder. It's one big flavour bomb against the milder flavoured pork and chicken.
Spicy tuna belly and pigs ears tataki $14
The spicy tuna belly and pigs ear takaki is a playground of textures. The lush tuna belly is a direct contrast to the squeaky crunch of pigs ear, tossed through with coriander and a delicate chiffonade of shiso leaves.
Spinach and red papaya shiraae $9
The spinach and red papaya salad is a surprise to the tastebuds. You keep thinking the orange cubes are pumpkin, but the cool sweet intensity of the ripe red papaya is a welcome counter to all the fatty meats.
Chicken soft bone cartilage $3/skewer
But the wacky stuff doesn't stop there. Chicken soft bone cartilage provides a gentle crunch, with a subtle sweetness from the caramelised edges.
Chicken tail $3/skewer
and sunagimo chicken gizzards $3/skewer
Chicken tails are inordinately satisfying too. These chicken butts are pert and more-ish - no snub parson's nose here. They're cooked so much of the fat has drained, leaving nothing but a sticky crispy shell.
We order the chicken heart pipes too - slightly chewy like tender squid - but it's the gizzards that are probably my favourite of the night with their resistant crunch.
Grilled young corn, okra and asparagus $14
It's not all meat. The simple beauty of grilled baby corn, asparagus spears and okra is a reminder that spring is just around the corner.
Skewers on the charcoal grill
The vibe is warm and friendly and the staff seem eager to attend your every need. There's been no massive PR campaign or media hype around Chaco Bar, but I reckon this is one of the best little gems to open in Sydney for a while.
238 Crown Street, Darlinghurst, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9007 8352
Monday to Saturday 6pm-10.30pm
Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Chaco Bar ramen (June 2015)
Japanese - Nippon Club, Sydney
Japanese - Toriciya, Cammeray
Japanese - Yayoi, Sydney
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9/10/2014 08:56:00 pm