Infatuation is so intoxicating most of us (guiltily) wish for the object of our delirium to undergo some form of mitosis so we can prolong that giddy feeling. As many fans of Bodega already know, Kenji Maenaka has split from the colourful Commonwealth St restaurant to setup his own Japanese tapas bar on the Waterloo food-power-block and we’re all dead keen to try this oriental relation.
While waiting for my friends, I hole up at the library and coincidentally find a manga all about…that’s right Izakayas! Oishinbo follows some food obsessed journalists tasked to create the “ultimate” menu; cue very long educational tales about the history of Sake, and the purity of authentic Japanese food, all from a pretty annoying stuck up young gun. I did learn about Junmai though: the premium Sake created without any alcohol additives, its flavour and pedigree largely determined by the percentage of grain they polish off before fermentation (the highest grade is at 50+%). The protagonists also wax lyrically about the serving temperatures of different sakes and the function of an Izakaya as a relaxed Japanese pub where easy and simple food is served to compliment the drinks.
Clearly now an Izakaya cognoscenti after reading a single manga tome, we rock up eager to dig into some Asian pub fare. I immediately love their logo and exterior signage, the slanted thick type reminiscent of the fonts Osamu Tezuka used for his famous titles (Astroboy, Kimba the white Lion).
We step inside and motion for a four seater, it’s still early and we snag a spot sandwiched between the large glass panes and a sneaky view of the bar. I’m also falling in love with their hand written calligraphy specials menu and the small touches of hot hand towels and unique hand made plates (somehow I imagine an old Japanese man somewhere hunched over his pottery wheel and hand painting these cuties).
Fried calamari: Deep fried SA calamari with mayonnaise $18
What better way to start then with some sake and fried calamari, golden curls which we slather in the Kewpie mayo.
Kenji’s Fried Chicken (KFC): Karaage chicken with mayonnaise $14.50
The cheekily named KFC follow shortly, the karaage chicken is a pleasent crunch of comfort which makes me start regretting not ordering a Sapporo.
Grilled Fish Head (Market Price): Yellow Fin Tuna Jaw $32
All this though is just nibbles to whet our appetite for the big flashy number: the grilled Yellow Fin tuna jaw. It arrives with some soy, ponzu & grated daikon and we start hacking away at it with forks, chopsticks and ultimately, fingers.
Fatty tuna cheek flesh with a drizzle of ponzu
As all good ethnic kids know, the best meat is in the cheek and jaw and this Tuna gives way to pockets of smooth and smokey fatty flesh.
Teriyaki Beef Kalbi: Glazed grilled beef ribs with green chilli relish $27.5
After wrestling with the seafood we relax with a little pot of teriyaki beef kalbi which turned out to be the star of the evening – the tender fall-a-part flesh dripping in a thick dark glaze and offset with a hit of chilli relish. We gave up on manners and picked the bones clean (elegance is not always our forte).
Pork Belly with Miso: Steamed pork belly with hoba miso and baked eggplant $22
The pork belly was last to arrive, a simple dish presented as a mound on a lone lotus leaf. The eggplant cooked in miso was a nice contrast to the steamed pork but I found the two elements didn’t seem to want to work together.
Love Koikawa (special): Almond cake with Koikawa ice cream and poached Granny Smith $13.50
Maenaka seems to have brought his famed chocolate Yogo with popcorn over him from Bodega but we opt for something new and decide to share the special dessert of almond cake and poached granny smiths: it’s light and goes down well. The others opted for Tea Ceremony, a fairly traditional combination of ice cream and stewed sweet beans.
Tea Ceremony: Vanilla bean ice cream with red beans and green tea kokuto syrup $11.50
The noise in the room’s slowly nudging itself into a turtle paced crescendo and as we get ready to leave it becomes quite busy. A few ladies are debriefing at the bar over some cocktails whilst friends and couples share some beef and tuna, although it’s still a bit rough around the edges it’s a sweet concept Sydney needs a few more of.
Most people walk in expecting a Japanese style Bodega and whilst there are echos of greatness in some of the dishes, this may be one comparison that’s hindering rather than aiding Fujiyama. For an Izakaya or a bar for that matter the dishes are quite expensive and although we left full we burned a sizable hole in our pockets. Nevertheless it’s a great atmosphere with a decent Sake collection, order the pub-style foods (beef, fried items) and you can’t go wrong.
a. 52 Waterloo St Surry Hills
t. 9698 2797