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