Izakaya Jiro

Go-to dish: Grilled Hokkaido scallops.
Go-to dish: Grilled Hokkaido scallops. Photo: Eddie Jim

830 Glenferrie Road Hawthorn, Victoria 3122

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Opening hours Mon-Sat noon-3pm, 6-10.30pm
Features Vegetarian friendly, Gluten-free options, Licensed, BYO
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Payments eftpos, AMEX, Mastercard, Visa
Phone 03 9818 7163

There isn't a neat name in English for a place that's part bar, part restaurant: bar-diner maybe? Restaurbar? In Italian, it's enoteca. In Spanish, tapas bar. In Japan, izakaya, which, apparently, loosely means "stay in a sake shop" and covers any casual place that serves booze and bite-sized morsels. In Hawthorn, Izakaya Jiro does that – and more.

Open since last September, Izakaya Jiro is a contemporary-casual place (more restaurant than bar); it's a steely smart black box that features exposed brick walls with giant paste-ups of classic 18th-century woodblock prints, and lit-up strings of threaded square, wooden sake cups dangling over the bar. Jiro Zhou is in the kitchen; he worked for a decade under Shigeo Nonaka at Shoya – a six-storey temple to fine-dining in the city. Frontman Yugo Matsuura shifted over from Shoya, too, and heads up the service and bar – abundantly stocked with Japanese beers, sake (about 50 types and in six sizes), shochu, umeshu (plum wine), wine and cocktails. Choices.

There are choices in the dinner menu, too: a potentially daunting 50-plus list of dishes that is quaintly rolled into a scroll. Unfurl to reveal dishes categorised by type: skewers, sushi and sashimi, grilled, deep-fried, salad. The way to a happily balanced meal is clearly signposted.

Sleek: Izakaya Jiro features lit-up strings of threaded wooden sake cups.
Sleek: Izakaya Jiro features lit-up strings of threaded wooden sake cups. Photo: Eddie Jim

Folks embarking on a meandering multi-dish-and-drink sitting might start with salty lotus-root crisps and a tall frosty Kirin – like think-music while studying the rest of the menu. Then hop between the freshness of salad leaves tossed with creamed tofu, silken-tofu squares and petals of radish and ginger, and charry bites of chicken yakitori skewers – cooked behind the bar and turned precisely over about 15 minutes by the dedicated grill guy. Keep seesawing, from creamy chilli-tinged Hokkaido scallops to mildly vinegary grilled wagyu pieces that come at room temperature topped with chilled finely grated radish.

It's at this point in the meal that entree-main diehards might jump in, ordering something small (gyoza, California roll) and follow with something sizzling from the stone-grilled plate: salmon teriyaki bedded with beanshoots and slivers of carrot and zucchini. Plus a side of rice – the alcohol-soaking starch traditionally marking the end of the meal.

Jiro covers lunch with quick service and all-in-one meals made up of many parts. Bento boxes (six teeny courses served at once) include a seafood version, with miso soup, sashimi and tempura. Teishoku (meal sets) include a main (maybe teriyaki chicken), plus: miso soup, a daily appetiser, rice and salad.

A mixed grilled plate at Izakaya Jiro.
A mixed grilled plate at Izakaya Jiro. Photo: Eddie Jim

However you approach it, Jiro is a good bet, a casual catch-all place at which to take a tipple and food that's a balance of texture, temperature and taste.

Do ... Head upstairs after mid-July when the yakiniku (charcoal-fuelled, stone-grill, table-top DIY barbecues) gets under way
Don't ... Come when you're having an alcohol-free day
Dish ... Grilled Hokkaido scallops
Vibe ... Politely polished, with a street-smart edge
Features Licensed & BYO Mon-Wed night (corkage $6 a bottle, $2 a beer)

Nina Rousseau is on leave.

The Age Good Food Under $30 is on sale now at selected newsagents, bookshops and online at theageshop.com.au.