Photo: James Brickwood
It looks like a bar, it feels like a bar, and it even sounds like a bar. But it's not a bar, it's a restaurant. You can tell, because the tables are set with plates, napkins, water glasses, soy sauce and chopsticks. Even the 10-metre-long bar is set for dining. It's all to do with converting a generation of bar- and club-goers to the next stage of their development - actually sitting at a table and eating food that comes on a plate.
PaperPlanes (yes, one word) does what it can to make sure the transition isn't too traumatic. The lighting is club-dark, the music is club-loud, and the feeling is club-hip, with a floating ceiling of 500 skateboard decks and origami paper cranes. Beppi's, it ain't.
PaperPlanes is a co-production between brothers Matt, Tim and Chris Barge of LL Wine & Dine in Potts Point, and business partner Phil Capaldi. They call the vibe ''Tokyo pop'', taking references from such diverse sources as manga comics, Street Fighter computer games and sushi bars, meshed with booze, music and food.
It all comes together at the ''Rock, Paper, Scissors'' bar, bathed in Ginza purple neon light and backed by a pulley-operated sliding specials board. At one end, two bartenders mix Hokkaido Island Iced Teas; in the middle a DJ lightly sways to his own beat; and at the other end, two sushi chefs calmly slice and dice.
In the kitchen, the former LL head chef, Taiwanese-born Jin Kung, has traded her pan-Asian menu for more-focused modern Japanese crowd-pleasers. The menu runs through sushi and sashimi to prawn gyoza with creamy lemon wasabi foam, and mirin-glazed duck breast with mint pesto, beetroot puree and fondant potato.
Tables for two are in the minority, with most of the crowd being of the age that still moves in packs. They're loud, bright and happy, content to sit on a cocktail or two and share a few dishes while yelling into each other's ears. If you're keen to talk, take a table in the arcade or at one of 16 stools along the bar.
This is not delicate food, it's rustic urban drinking food. Grilled chicken kushiyaki ($9 for two skewers) is more like a robust chicken burger on sticks than light and juicy tsukune. Pork and cabbage gyoza ($16 for five) are the real deal; plump and meaty with well-crisped, suntanned Bondi-style bottoms.
Salmon tartare with nachos ($16) is a localised take on Nobu's famous sashimi tacos, the nachos being rather thick prawn crackers and the salmon sliced and tossed with miso, wasabi and salmon roe, theatrically served in a glass on a bed of ice. It's fresh, texturally crunchy and silky, with a gentle wasabi sting.
A salad of tofu and green ogo and wakame seaweed ($12) is fun, and salmon nigiri sushi ($6 for two) is well made and fresh without being life-defining. A main course of beef short ribs ($31) is a major commitment to meat, best shared - the beefy chunks mostly tender and soft in their soy-based yakiniku sauce. What could be too much of a good thing is saved by a scattering of sweet, crunchy pickles - daikon, carrot, lotus root - and a grassy thatch of shredded wasabi leaf.
They're very proud of serving only fresh wasabi, grated on its traditional sharkskin grater; something every Japanese restaurant in the country should offer.
On the back of the tricksy origami-folded menu are nine different sakes in 60-millilitre, 240-millilitre and 720-millilitre measures, and a clipped, clever, contemporary wine list. Sake Sugii Shuzo Tempo 13 is suggested for the beef, but there's a cherry/berry 2009 Quartz Reef Pinot Noir from Central Otago ($62) that balances its richness just as well.
Pop Rocks are having another moment, it seems, their kitsch sherbety fizz turning up in cocktails and desserts. Leaving the playground behind for a moment is a beyond-elegant little dessert called The Black Egg ($14) of smooth coconut-milk curd with a deep black core of intensely rich coffee and chocolate. I question only the finishing touch of a film of macadamia nut oil; otherwise I'm in love.
It's not so much about the cocktails, music, design, or even the food. It's about the fresh new way it all comes together in a great big interactive package of kinetic energy and beachside bling. PaperPlanes is the clearest indication yet that the ''looks like bar, acts like restaurant'' movement is set to fly.
Best bit The package: Tokyo pop meets Bondi beachside bling.
Worst bit I SAID it's VERY LOUD!
Go-to dish Braised beef short ribs in yakiniku sauce with pickled vegetables and wasabi-leaf salad, $31.
Address The Beach House complex, shop 15, 178 Campbell Parade, Bondi. 9356 8393, paperplanesbondi.com.
Open Lunch, Fri-Sun; dinner, daily.
Cost About $100 for two, plusdrinks.
How we score
Restaurants are judged out of 20 on the total restaurant experience. The score comprises 10 points for food, five for service, three for ambience with an extra two points possible for something special - be it location, service, attitude, commitment or wow factor.
13 Good if not great
14 Solid and enjoyable
15 Very good
16 Capable of greatness
Restaurants are reviewed again for the Good Food Guide and scores may vary.
Terry Durack is co-editor of The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide.
- 9356 8393
- Cuisine - Japanese
- Prices - About $100 for two, plus drinks, About $100 for two, plus drinks
- Opening Hours - Lunch Fri-Sun; dinner daily.
- Author - Terry Durack