20 Smidmore St Marrickville, NSW 2204
|Opening hours||Mon-Sun 11.30am-3pm, 5pm-10pm|
|Features||Licensed, Accepts bookings, Outdoor seating|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||0404 423 888|
In the spirit of traditional Japanese laneway izakaya restaurants, passersby at Izakaya Tori in Marrickville Metro's Smidmore Street complex can stand at a window watching chefs grill bite-size portions of pork belly, chicken, wagyu, prawn and vegetables over sizzling hot coals.
Using a robata grill, each chef's dexterity proves the cooking style's unsuitability for casual kitchen types. Robata, which is short for robatayaki and translates to "fireside cooking", demands constant attention because of the proximity to the coals.
Through smoky glass we watch careful and repeated turning of skewered okra and brussels sprouts administered with the air of a helicopter parent. Every flip transforms fresh vegetable chunks into fancy charred treats.
This is proven by the scenes behind us. Gangs of younger customers from family groups in Izakaya Tori's al fresco area wield skewers of seared mushroom or barbecued eggplant with the delight of Easter Show visitors holding fairy floss on sticks. No one below eight is sitting down, but everyone is eating vegetables with a fevered joy.
Inside, beyond the restaurant's curving dark-stained wood exterior, a spacious high-ceilinged, dusky panelled dining room has a different feel. The semi-open kitchen, ringed by up-lit shelves of wine and boxed sake, is buzzing. Tables of whisky-drinking grown-ups, also clutching things on sticks, sit beside wall-nooks filled with delicate porcelain sake flasks, portly traditional ceramic sake vessels and bottles of Suntory whisky from distilleries across Japan.
Everyone at the long communal table has arranged their dishes around fixed steel cables rising up to a concrete pillar, a design Izakaya Tori's owner, Dennis Oh, says is inspired by the Anzac Bridge.
Oh, who trained in traditional Japanese cooking skills at Makoto in Chatswood, has devised a menu divided between yakitori, skewered grilled meat and vegetables, rice and noodle dishes, sushi and sashimi platters and share plates. The extensive drinks menu features Junmai, or "pure rice" sake, dry, unfiltered and fruit varieties, which can be paired with dishes. There's also Japanese whiskies, beers and distilled spirit Shochu, and a good list of predominantly Australian wines.
Our yakitori, including chicken tori-neg (with shallot), pork jowl, brussels sprouts and a serving of grilled semi-dried calamari, is paired with Hakutsuru Junmai Ginjo, a premium dry and fruity sake. It's smooth stuff, excellent with the smoky and crisp sprouts and tender chicken, squid and pork, all glistening with darkly sweet and salty marinades.
A platter of beautifully burly sushi, delicately daubed with fish eggs, seaweed, pickled ginger or wasabi, precedes a hefty share plate of melty miso-marinated black cod speckled with edible flowers, and a large clock-shaped serve of yaki wombok salad. All are are top-notch although the seared layers of Chinese cabbage languishing in rich garlic and soy sauce is the stand-out.
Green tea panna cotta, served in a lidded jar with wooden spoons, is mildly fought over for its creamy, earthy taste.
When Oh opened Izakaya Tori in 2021, the crowds flocked. His aim to create a buzzy casual restaurant and bar with all-day and late-night snacks, drinks and specialty dishes went off. Wagyu beef fritters, the semi-dried calamari and oden (fish cake) soup were snaffled up and he was pleased to discover customers's keen interest in the nine sake varieties.
Three weeks after opening, lockdown stalled the hordes, and Oh pivoted to takeaway. He offered meticulously built DIY yakitori packs for customers to cook at home with the option of pairing with sake or wine. Eight months after restrictions lifted, the customers are returning.
Oh says the feel of Izakaya Tori, particularly on Friday and Saturday nights, is almost normal again. Customers are back at the tables sharing duck breast, seared wombok and stir-fried udon noodles, chomping grilled chicken, pork and vegetable yakitori with gusto and raising their sake cups to cheer the convivial hubbub of eating and drinking together he had always hoped for.
Vibe Sophisticated Tokyo laneway yakitori in suburban food street
Go-to dish Grilled skewers, vegetable to chicken, duck, tuna and prawn
Insta-worthy dish Miso marinade black cod, speckled with edible flowers