Wander along Yebisu Izakaya and you may think you’ve stumbled on a street of Tokyo with bright neon-lit signs, glowing paper lanterns, Japanese signage, and not the interior of Sydney’s Regent Place.
Long counter seating
Bare bricks are transformed into colourful murals and a dark wood interior with a sake display wall catch your attention. The look is the work of Giant Designs who are also responsible for Tenkomori and Chanoma.
If you’ve been to Tokyo, Yebisu Izakaya takes you down memory lane. The year was 2006 to a popular Izakaya chain of restaurants called Amataro with touch screen ordering at the time. These were the days before iPads were available.
Bringing the concept to Australia, Yebisu boasts a menu with over 200 dishes which you order on mounted iPad screens, or a large laminated card if you prefer. The interactive ordering system allows you to choose your dishes and beverages without speaking to the staff. Once you’ve placed an order, you’ll see a cute animation that indicates that your food is being prepared.
Yebisu Beer, Kikyo, Sake
The drinks menu is extensive with cocktails, beer, shochu, spirits and mocktails. The cocktails are an odd choice such as Kahlua and Milk, Kir Royal, Malibu and Coke, Frozen Margarita alongside some of the more unusual Kikyo, Ouka and Shichifukujin (The Seven Gods of Fortune), an assortment of 7 glasses for $35. Most are sweet or fruity and not conducive to a pre-dinner drink or an accompaniment to the meal but fortunately, there’s good beer and sake. The Yebisu All Malt Beer is an excellent choice, easy to drink and thirst quenching. If you’re after a Japanese whisky, you’ll have to settle for Yamazaki 10 yo served on the rocks or with water.
Sake display wall
You can order sake off the menu and it comes in the traditional ceramic bottle and cups but if you press the “Call Staff” button on your iPad and ask, the sake trolley will come to you.
Sake Waitress with Sake Trolley
The sake waitress, or should that be hostess, offers a choice of three sakes: Josen Mizunogotoshi, Benten Musume and Chirari. She explains the flavour and dry scale of each one and once you choose, she ceremoniously rings a bell like you’ve won a prize.
Benten Musume Sake
She pours the cold sake – Izakaya style – into a small glass sitting in a lacquered box, allowing the spirit to overflow as a sign of generosity. You toast, Kanpai, and she moves along to the next person.
Once drinks are organised, start with Edamame ($5.80) served with Himalayan rock salt which is grated at your table.
Mix sashimi entrée
The popular Mix Sashimi Entrée ($15.80) is a popular choice is beautifully presented with 9 pieces of fish including tuna and salmon.
The Japanese Omelette with grated daikon ($8.80) has a lovely texture without being hard or rubbery.
Stewed Waguy Tendon
The Stewed Waguy Tendon ($5.80) is tender with the meat tendon cut very thin, like the meat you cook shabu-shabu style.
Pan fried pork gyoza
The Pan Fried Pork Gyoza ($7.80) is presented on a hot plate and the teriyaki/ponzu sauce is poured on top which steams, sizzles and further cooks the dumpling. Equally delicious is the prawn gyoza ($7.80).
Tom Yum Goong Roll
The Tom Yum Goong Roll ($8.80) combines Thai and Japanese flavours in a delicious hot, spicy and chewy sushi roll. This is a standout dish and worth ordering on subsequent visits.
If you find it difficult to get excited about tofu, this dish is likely to convert you. Homemade Tofu ($6.80) with grated ginger and spring onions has a clean, fresh flavour with a gritty texture on the palate. Try it on its own to appreciate the flavour before adding soy sauce. It’s like eating fresh curd without the dairy component.
The Assorted Yakitori ($29.80) offers skewers of pork, chicken wings, and chicken skins but is an underwhelming dish. The chicken skins taste like fat which has not rendered properly and the chicken wings and pork have little flavour.
The chicken Karaage ($8.80) is crispy, and mildly seasoned and easy to pop in your mouth while sipping on beer.
If you’re in the mood for sushi, the Sushi Main ($26.80) contains the usual assortments including prawn, salmon roe, scallop and a sushi roll.
Yebisu omelette rice
For something more substantial, choose the Yebisu Omelette Rice ($14.80). It may look like lasagna in a bowl but this popular dish in Japan has savoury rice with chicken pieces topped with a thin omelette and a drizzle of tomato sauce. This is Japanese comfort food at its best – rich, tasty and filling.
Donuts with ice cream
To wrap up the meal, Donut Balls with ice cream and red bean are difficult to resist or you can choose the Earl Grey Brulee ($5.80).
Yebisu Izakaya is a quirky eatery that gives you a taste of Tokyo. The iPad menu ordering system adds a fun and interactive element and allows you to track your bill as you go. The sake trolley adds an element of theatrics to the casual dining experience. The food menu is a delight to choose from with over 200 dishes ranging from the usual sushi/sashimi to the more adventurous such as pork tongue yakitori, wagyu guts and salmon head. Top picks are Tom Yum Goong Roll, Homemade Tofu, Yebisu Omelette Rice and Pan Fried Pork Gyoza.
An Izakaya is a Japanese drinking establishment that serves food. And while there is a strong cocktail and drinks focus at Yebisu, the choice of beverages could benefit from a little tweaking. If you like dry and savoury pre-dinner drinks or with your meal, your choice is limited to beer and sake. Japanese-inspired cocktails such as the Saketini at Kaya Sydney would make a great addition to the sweet and fruity varieties on offer.
Whether you drop in for a quick lunch or a more leisurely evening meal, dining at Yebisu Izakaya is not a one-off affair. It’s fun. It’s quirky. It’s designed to impress and will you a memorable experience. Just like Tokyo.
Yebisu Izakaya is featured in our guide to Sydney’s Best Japanese Restaurants.
501 George Street, near Bathurst Street
Open daily, Lunch seven days from 12-3pm; Dinner Sunday to Thursday from 5-11pm, Friday to Saturday from 5pm-midnight
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