GOLD SPELL

CRAIG TANS­LEY dis­cov­ers the most TRA­DI­TIONAL of Ja­panese YAK­I­TORI BARS just me­tres away from one of Aus­tralia’s most fa­mous SURF BREAKS.

Australian Traveller - - Weekends -

I’VE JUST COME OFF THE BEACH at Burleigh Heads and walked through a park where fam­i­lies bar­be­cue sausages un­der enor­mous pines and rosel­las screech loudly. And now… I en­ter Ja­pan. Iku Yak­i­tori is so much like a back­street eatery in Tokyo that I ac­tu­ally walk past it sev­eral times be­fore I re­alise I’m in front of it. You don’t en­ter from the front – on the Gold Coast High­way – you’ve got to find the back lane to it, then en­ter through an un­marked re­cy­cled tim­ber door. It’s part of the sur­prise be­cause in­side that door, deep­est, dark­est Ja­pan awaits. It’s so dark in­side that the waiter catches me by sur­prise when I walk into him. I pass a whisky bar where two surfer-types sit, and step through cur­tains into the din­ing room, where four Ja­panese chefs stand, be­hind glass, cook­ing food over white-hot binchō-tan char­coals. Iku Yak­i­tori was in­spired by own­ers Mitch and Nerissa McCluskey’s love of the sim­ple yak­i­tori bars of Ja­pan. Here, chicken is the star – yak­i­tori means ‘grilled chicken’. And tonight, there’s not one part of the chicken that’s over­looked – stan­dard Ja­panese prac­tice (why eat breast when you can eat skin?). Though there are other op­tions. I start with or­ganic lo­cal silken tofu with gin­ger, shal­lots, dashi and soy, and fol­low that up with raw ocean trout with shiso and ponzu. But I’m crav­ing the chicken I’m smelling be­ing bar­be­cued all around me. I or­der chicken car­ti­lage with sea salt and chicken heart with tare to see if I’m miss­ing out on what I’d nor­mally think of as ined­i­ble on a chook; and I try the ten­der­loin with onion and tare. It’s the car­ti­lage that ac­tu­ally stands out: it’s more ten­der, and flavour­some, and makes the ten­der­loin seem dry by com­par­i­son. I step out mid-meal to use the bath­room and push through dark, heavy cur­tains into a bright cor­ri­dor. The spell is bro­ken, I’m back in Queens­land. But not for long; soon I push back in, or­der a saké and head back to the outer reaches of Hon­shu. Din­ing here isn’t sim­ply about the food (though it’s as good as any yak­i­tori I’ve tried in Aus­tralia): it’s the­atre, though never con­trived. The chefs work hard on the other side of the glass – never once look­ing up – and I head back to where I was sit­ting shoe­less in a tiny booth, en­joy­ing the show. For dessert I try matcha tiramisu laced with whisky, and wash it down with… whisky (there are over 85 Ja­panese whiskies here, the most on the whole Gold Coast). And then, like that it’s over; I walk out­side and I hear the surf roar­ing, and booz­ers from the bar next door, and Ja­pan never felt so far away.

All AT re­views are con­ducted anony­mously and our writ­ers pay their own way – so we ex­pe­ri­ence ex­actly what you would.

| WEEK­ENDS Re­views

CLOCKWISE FROM MAIN: Iku Yak­i­tori feels like a mini Tokyo; It fea­tures the Gold Coast’s largest stash of Ja­panese whiskies; Whet your ap­petite with edamame dip; Chefs use white-hot binchō-tan char­coals.

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