Izakaya is slightly hard to find. Tucked into the bottom of a newish post-industrial apartment block up from famously bizarre Reader’s Digest building in Surry Hills, it’s almost un-signposted and certainly unencumbered by the convenience of a street number. It didn’t make for an easy sighting, but to be fair it’s absolutely worth it if you are a fan of Japanese bar food.
Luckily, I am. I’m a fan of their light almost cider-like beers, smooth whisky, their small tasty meals and the way that when their done well with fresh produce, the salty, vinegary tastes and textures all work so seamlessly on your palate.
I went on a Wednesday on my way to the theatre. It was early, hot and raining hard when I got there and only two of the 40 or so tables were occupied. One with four youngish, Japanese businessmen hitting the beers, laughing loudly and openly the way groups do when they are unleashed by alcohol. A young and sharply groomed couple who appeared to be on a nervous early date, sitting erect like they were expecting a teacher’s sharp rebuke occupy the other.
The waitress seemed to be unsure what to do with us as we were a three, but a moment of hustling and combining of tables in the mostly empty restaurant solved that issue. However clumsy she had been in seating us, when we ordered drinks her choices were spot on. We kept our order simple this time and didn’t trouble the massive beer list. It was hot so we ordered a dry cold Sake (one of many on an extensive list of their own) at our waitress’ recommendation and it was perfect.
The menu is tight and well balanced – with a range of Japanese staples and brave new ideas like fried Brussel Sprouts served up by what looked like a small army of Japanese chef’s who stood watching us from the open kitchen fiddling with their knives, poised and ready to work.
I was pressed for time when I visited – partly because the traffic in Sydney is bad when it rains, partly because I had tickets booked for the theatre. I didn’t have time to be adventurous, so I stuck with the Japanese staples I know I like.
We started with edamame and sashimi – both were fresh and delicious. When they aren’t well done these foods are soft and unpleasant – but at Izakaya Fujiyama they snapped and popped in the mouth. We switched from Sake to to Prosecco for our mains – the Italian sparkling compliments the salty Japanese food very well. We had the chicken karaage which were both sweet and hot, served with a tart and fresh kewpie mayonnaise. The marinated beef ribs were a revelation. A waitress who came complete with a mandatory nose ring and deep blue green tattoo’s confirmed it was the most popular dish. Succulent and butter like in consistency, the smokiness of the bonito and the ribs paired with the jalapeno relish it disappeared fast under a blur of knives and forks. The prawn tempura was crisp and puffy as it should be and without the taste of uncooked flour.
The restaurant is laid out well to suit the space. Lounge seats on one side with a wall spotted with neon signs and lightboxes of different Japanese beers. A high top table runs through the centre of the restaurant, with stools at the bar which is lined with bottles of sake and whiskey, miniature 3D printed figurines and robots. My companion asked me why they were playing country music. I explained it was the gospel blues – the song was “Dark Was The Night” by Blind Willie Nelson. The vibe is a modern Japanese bar complete with very cool 1940’s blues soundtrack.
(02) 9698 2797
52 Waterloo St, Surry Hills
Mon-Wed 6pm-10pm, Thurs-Sat 6pm-11:30pm