It’s no secret to those that are close to me that I love Japan. Before my first visit, it was not on my list of must-visit places in the world – back then, I was still naive, and wanted to go to Paris, the States, like every wide-eyed teenager.
It was upon graduating university that my mother took me on a Taiwanese tour group to Japan, visiting Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe. Tour grouping is not my ideal way to travel, but it does give you a fleeting “taste” of the place; as I like to call it, the “junk food” of traveling. It was enough however, to entice me for a second visit to see what I had missed out on, and so it was last year in 2016 that I made an unforgettable trip with Night Owl.
Night Owl and I last weekend booked our second trip to Japan with much excitement – hopefully we will be there for cherry blossom season! Our trip will start with a few days in Hong Kong before a full two weeks in Japan. Our flights all together were just under $1000 each – such an incredible deal! I know we visited just last year and there are many other places to go in the world, but Japan holds a special place in both of our hearts.
The Japanese have so much fierce pride in their food, and good food is available everywhere and anytime. Step off a plane or train into a city at 10, 11, or even 12 midnight in the evening and I can guarantee that you will find an amazing meal. Ready-to-go bento boxes in any convenience store packaged beautifully, underground cubicle ramen restaurants, or yakitori bars brimming with salary-men clutching beers and laughing raucously. The Japanese are known to work hard and play equally hard, and among the light-hearted kerfuffle of the yakitori bar, step inside and look to the kitchen, where you will see the chef frowned in concentration. They tend to a couple of sticks of threaded meat at any one time, slowly rotating it over smouldering charcoal with the utmost care.
When I heard about Sydney’s Chaco Bar, I immediately demanded to Night Owl that we have our next date night there, and she readily agreed. I’d seen many Instagram posts of the place, and they are also well-known for their unique ramen, available lunchtimes and earlier in the week.
Head up Oxford Street from the corner of Hyde Park, turn left and trundle a little way past Shady Pines where you will see the traditional curtains of a Japanese eatery. Seats are scarce in the tiny joint so bookings are highly recommended. I had made one a week ahead, so I was seated immediately on a tiny bar stool against the wall. I went to work perusing the specials board.
Night Owl arrived, and in the spirit of nostalgia we both ordered the Suntory Premium Malt ($9). I really cannot emphasise how refreshing the beer in Japan is – you will need to taste it for yourself. Even Japanese beer in Sydney doesn’t quite hit the same level, but it’s almost there!
Our first order is off the specials board: the Marinated Bluefin Tuna, Tasmanian truffle, yolk ($26):
It’s silky, sensual, dark, earthy and meaty all at once. I never would have thought truffles would pair so well with sashimi, but with the almost steak-like quality of the fresh tuna sashimi, it works so well. Our palates are more than ready for what’s to come next.
For some variety, we ordered the Chef’s 6 skewers ($28) being pork belly, thigh, crackling, wing, lamb, and heart. These arrive one at a time at random intervals during our dinner, but for consistency’s sake I’ll put the photos together.
They arrived on small beds of chopped Savoy cabbage, its buttery flavour emphasised with its light soy dressing. My favourite was the pork belly, the soft meat intensely succulent with the fat rendered off by smoky charcoal slow-cooking. The wing was a close second, incredibly crispy with its light glaze and the tender meat full of flavour. I wasn’t so much a fan of the heart – more so because of my aversion to offal, but Night Owl gobbled the rest of the stick up before I could say anything more!
On top of these sticks, I had insisted we order the Famous Meat Ball – Tsukune with 62 degree egg ($16/2 pieces). This was incredibly delicious and we kept dipping our meatball kebab back into the runny yolk to mop it up.
The best thing about dining with your boo? Neither of you cares if you double dip! 😉
It was probably a shame that the next dish came out towards the end, as I would have appreciated it a lot more on a slightly emptier stomach! I was almost fit to burst when the Grilled Rice Balls with Smoked Chasu ($12/2 pieces)arrived, but still loved the crunchy texture of the packed rice, which contrasted with the soft, fall-apart pieces of braised pork belly.
Chaco Bar perfectly encapsulates that Japanese essence of old and new – from their traditional seating and cooking methods, to the incorporation of new world ingredients such as truffles and 62 degree eggs. It was a wonderful date-night dinner experience and I wouldn’t hesitate to visit here again, particularly for those meatballs and for more Japanese beer!
238 Crown Street
Darlinghurst NSW 2010
(02) 9007 8352