In Japan, informal pubs or bars are called izakayas, and they’re the perfect places to retreat to in Autumn. Traditionally small, darkened hole-in-the-walls, serving flavoursome morsels of karaage chicken or gyoza dumplings, and top-notch sakes; we’ve picked our favourite places emulating this experience in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.
Words by Editor, Hannah Sparks
In Japan, the locals know that the best seafood restaurants are those where you can see the ocean from the table. And there’s no better match for good seafood than good sake. It’s as close as it gets at this modern Japanese restaurant and bar, home to one of Tokyo’s finest sushi chefs, views over Sydney Harbour, and a well-curated list of sakes.
Now, here’s how to get the full Fujisaki experience: on arrival, start with one of the many impressive Japanese cocktails that use authentic, seasonal ingredients. We recommend the Yuzu for a slightly sweet, but light and refreshing place to start. Next, take a seat at the onyx stone raw bar for a mesmerising show of Ryuichi Yoshii’s culinary skills; but not without a glass of sake. Take your pick from sparkling, still and cloudy; rich and textural; aromatic and delicate; and even digestif sake, in the event you overindulge.
Shop 2, 100 Barangaroo Avenue, Sydney, NSW 2000
T: 02 9052 9188
Opening hours: Lunch: Mon-Sun 12.00pm-3.00pm
Dinner: Mon-Sun 6.00pm-10.00pm
Kisumé, pronounced kiss-oo-meh, means a pure obsession with beauty, and that it certainly is. Almost everything that Kisumé produces turns out as a work of art. The design. The food. The drinks. My gosh. It’s no wonder this place gets such a hype. Starting with the look, Kisumé is split over three levels. Kuro Kisumé takes up the first floor, offering discrete private dining rooms and the Chablis Bar, Australia’s only one. On the ground floor and basement is Kisumé, the large sushi restaurant and bar that lets diners get so close to the chefs they could almost exchange breath. Here, a dark colour scheme striked with minimalism, clean lines and emotive photographs draw in spectators. But that’s not the only thing. Impeccably finished dishes and drinks urge even those disgruntled with social media to reach for their phones. Don’t go past their seasonal cocktails, bespoke sakes and if there’s any left, the exclusive and delicious Pure Kisumé Gin developed with Four Pillars.
175 Flinders Lane, Melbourne, VIC 3000
T: 03 9671 4888
Opening hours: Mon-Sun 11.30am-late
NIHONSHU SAKE & SHOCHU BAR
Looking for sake? Head to Nihonshu Sake and Shochu Bar. This place claims one of, if not the, most extensive sake lists in Melbourne. The last time we counted, there were over 60 on the menu, each accompanied by a bottle image and in-depth description, mirroring the staff’s unbeatable knowledge here. Don’t let their hipster vibe fool you. Not many Australians are well acquainted with the world of sake yet, and Nihonshu is the perfect place to start that journey. Feel free to ask for a recommendation or jump straight to the sake of the week, Nihonshu’s pick of some of the city’s best to wash down sashimi and delicious morsels from Izakaya Chuji next door.
163 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne, VIC 3000
T: 03 9663 8118
Opening hours: Mon-Fri 5.00pm-12.00am
SAKE RESTAURANT & BAR
If you’re looking for somewhere for a quick lunchtime work meeting or easy catch up with friends, close to Brisbane’s CBD, try Sake Restaurant & Bar. A friendly, contemporary, fine dining Japanese restaurant and bar on the edge of the river, with plenty of long and small tables for groups or individuals. When we think of Sake Restaurant & Bar, we picture the cherry blossom tree in the centre, old sake barrels along the wall, and lots of fun and beautifully presented food and drink options. As the name suggests, sake is at the heart of this place. There are around 30 by the glass or carafe and 30 by the bottle, each accompanied by a handy descriptor. For the slightly more adventurous, try the sake explorer, a flight of three sakes. Or, for those newer to sake, try the blended options, mixed with fresh juice for a sweeter, more approachable taste. Then grab the lunchtime bento box.
Level 1, 45 Eagle Street, Brisbane, QLD 4000
T: 07 3015 0557
Opening hours: Mon-Fri 9.00am-8.00pm
A venue that could be measured merely on its impressive sake list. Over five pages of Sokyo’s menu, which can only be described as a volume, is an unrivalled selection of 30 plus sakes, divided between individual 300ml bottles, 720ml for sharing and 1.8lt for parties. But that’s only the beginning. A rarity not just for Japanese bars in Australia, but even bars in Japan, Sokyo stocks several aged sakes. While often recommended to be enjoyed when fresh and young, aged sake is a fun experience. There’s also a choice of cheaper sakes enjoyed every day in Japan, as well as more expensive, but impressive, premium sakes for those wanting to indulge. Helpful descriptors are on hand too.
Level G, The Darling, The Star, 80 Pyrmont Street, Pyrmont, NSW 2009
T: 02 9657 9161
Opening hours: Breakfast: Daily 7.00am-10.30am
Lunch: Fri-Sat 12.00pm-2.00pm
Dinner: Sun-Thurs 5.30pm-10.00pm
Where city life meets Japanese tradition. At Sushia Izakaya, strong industrial edges and the hustle and bustle of Perth diners surround a striking cherry blossom and communal tables. In fact, it’s the varied seating at this popular venue that makes for quite the excitement. Choose to socialise with others at the long table, pull up a seat at the open kitchen and watch the teppanyaki hot plate and robata grill live in action, or enjoy beautiful Japanese-inspired cocktails at the top class bar. The presentation of both the food and drinks at Sushia Izakaya is impressive, to say the least. Think of fresh sushi resting on ice-laden plates and edible flowers dancing over cocktails. Also on the bar menu are over 20 sakes, including low grade, to top grade, and hot sake, perfect during autumn. They also serve Japanese whisky, umeshu, shochu, plenty of great wine and other spirits.
Shop HLG103, Brookfield Place
129 St. Georges Terrace
Perth, WA 6000
T: 08 9322 7771
Opening hours: Lunch: Mon-Fri 12.00pm-3.00pm
Dinner: Mon-Thurs 6.00pm-11.00pm