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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst

Skewers on the charcoal grill at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst

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 at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst
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.

Tiny bar chairs beneath the wooden menu boards at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst
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 at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst
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.

Crytal bay prawn sashimi, uni sea urchin roe with truffle and tuna at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst
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 truffle at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst
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 at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst
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.

Chicken heart skewer and pork belly skewer at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst
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 at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst
Chicken wings $4/2 pieces

Chicken wings might seem run-of-the-mill, but there's a heightened plane of enjoyment when they've been cooked over charcoal. The skin crisps up to a brittle veneer and the flavour of the chicken has intensified from cooking on the bone. A squeeze of fresh lemon is all you need for maximum satisfaction.

Chicken thigh skewer and chicken crackling skewers at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst
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 chicken meatball skewers with 62C egg at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst
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.

Spicy lamb shoulder skewer at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst
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 at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst
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 salad at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst
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 skewer at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst
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 gizzards skewer at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst
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 at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst
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 at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst
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.

Entrance to Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst

Chaco Bar on Urbanspoon

Chaco Bar
238 Crown Street, Darlinghurst, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9007 8352

Opening hours:

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
24 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 9/10/2014 08:56:00 pm


  • At 9/10/2014 9:50 pm, Anonymous Tina@foodboozeshoes said…

    Cannot handle the cartilage... Great little place :) Go yakitori!

  • At 9/10/2014 9:56 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I always know of new places from reading your blog and they always have amazing food! The offal skewers sound yum!

  • At 9/10/2014 10:19 pm, Anonymous Lee Tran Lam said…

    Oh, been wanting to check this place out for a while. Thanks for the great post – feels like I'm sitting right at the counter, and I can just smell all those smokey yakitori fumes!

  • At 9/11/2014 1:28 am, Blogger Sherrie @ Crystal Noir said…

    Omg fresh urchin is the best! Makes me miss it back in Japan! :(

  • At 9/11/2014 3:03 am, Anonymous Padaek said…

    Wow! You really like this place, it must be awesome. Judging from how good the food looks, it's easy to see why. Chicken fans heaven! Yum, yum, yum. I can't believe how appetizing the selection of dishes are. My mouth was watering as I eagerly yet hesitantly scrolled down the page. Amazing cuts too; soft bones, heart, gizzards, sticky butts (lol), etc. Sounds soo good! Also, that spicy tuna belly and pigs ears tataki sounds sublime!! Great b&w photos too. Where are you taking us next? :D

  • At 9/11/2014 8:47 am, Blogger Unknown said…

    You had me at meatballs with gooey 62C egg!

  • At 9/11/2014 9:59 am, Blogger Jacq said…

    Ooh I've been hanging out for a place that does awesome tsukune - one of my favourite things that I ate in Japan!

  • At 9/11/2014 10:39 am, Anonymous Bianca@forfoodssake said…

    Love the look of the Tsukune meatball :)

  • At 9/11/2014 5:27 pm, Anonymous ChopinandMysaucepan said…

    Dear Helen,

    Food here's a bargain! The first time I had soft bone chicken years ago, I thought the restaurant was playing a joke on us.

  • At 9/11/2014 10:49 pm, Anonymous Cindy (a foodie's joy) said…

    You found another place! Love finding out little gems through your posts! :)

  • At 9/12/2014 7:17 am, Anonymous Martine @ Chompchomp said…

    I have a serious addiction with slow cooked eggs so although the rest of the food still looks amazing - you only need to say onsen egg and Im there!

  • At 9/12/2014 10:43 am, Blogger Cassie | Journey From Within said…

    Ohh jazz city diner is gone? Such a shame :(
    But hello to all those skewers!!!

  • At 9/12/2014 1:16 pm, Anonymous Hannah said…

    Sending this link to my parents. They ask for chicken cartilage at every Japanese restaurant and it's pretty much always no.

  • At 9/12/2014 3:50 pm, Anonymous Gourmet Getaways said…

    Oh, I love grilled meat and veggies. Price is pretty reasonable, too! Thanks for sharing!

    Gourmet Getaways

  • At 9/12/2014 5:26 pm, Blogger gaby @ lateraleating said…

    "Fat is a barbecue's best friend" - I love that line. Looks like a great place for Japanese food, much better to your regular lunch special joint.

  • At 9/12/2014 8:07 pm, Blogger Sarah said…

    Oh wow! I went to Jazz City Diner last time I was in Sydney and really liked it - I can't believe it's changed so much! It looks so different, but equally awesome! :)

  • At 9/12/2014 8:36 pm, Anonymous Olivia @ mademoiselleinsydney said…

    Oh my, this place looks like it's a hidden gem indeed!! I heart anything that has had some charcoal love, must visit this place really really soon? The Tsukune + 62Cegg looks fantastic!

  • At 9/13/2014 8:39 am, Anonymous Hotly Spiced said…

    It does look very Japanese and yes, how tiny are those chairs! I love how everything comes on a skewer and I'm always quick to order chicken wings, even if they do seem ordinary. I'd love to try the pork belly xx

  • At 9/13/2014 10:57 am, Blogger Ramen Raff said…

    Uni with truffles sounds next level! I want the tuna belly & pig ears tataki coz of the contrast. Skewers look amaze too

  • At 9/14/2014 3:58 pm, Anonymous Tania @My Kitchen Stories said…

    You make me want to eat everywhere. It looks very interesting and very delicious.

  • At 9/14/2014 6:24 pm, Anonymous Amanda @ Gourmanda said…

    So many delicious skewers!

  • At 9/15/2014 7:52 am, Anonymous john | heneedsfood said…

    So much deliciousness! And I've got to be honest, I'm happier to see a yakitori bar at this address than its previous tenant. Can't wait to try it.

  • At 9/20/2014 1:55 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    skewers look awesome.
    i can easily see myself becoming a regular.

    surely be that piddly bowl of a couple asparagus sticks at $14 is a misprint?
    turf that and take 3more skewers please!. lol.

  • At 9/23/2014 7:11 am, Anonymous Sara | Belly Rumbles said…

    OMG, well isn't this exciting!


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