We’re staring at a glass karaoke box, trying to work out why no one is singing. It’s a strange sight given the room is packed and the song is Spice Girl’s ‘2 Become 1’. The reason, it seems, is that everyone is face-deep in chicken wings. At Bang Bang Izakaya, this is called a tebasaki tower: a soy and peppery stack of 15 fried wings that come with a basket of latex gloves.
Like those fried snacks, a first visit to this sparky Japanese bar might feel like a sensory overload. It’s a combined effect of the bullet-sprayed roller doors, glowing red lanterns, timber stalls, neon lights, and vending machines that cough up Pokemon-themed soda. Is this what it’s like to be inside a trippy Murakami novel?
Give your brain a moment to adjust and the pieces will fall into place. Bang Bang, we’re told, is designed to mirror Japan in the eyes of a gaikokujin (foreigners, like us). We settle in the ‘Downtown Tokyo’ section of the 85-seater, where waist-high stools and small round tables flank the long, backlit bar.
Like a proper izakaya, Bang Bang excels at affordable small plates. At almost every table are plump katsu sliders or bronzed triangles of yaki onigiri (grilled rice balls). Dishes from the robata are a highlight. The smoky, soy-glazed cuttlefish is air-dried then grilled to a deep magenta. Or try the fish saiko miso — juicy fillets of just-charred market fish for a reasonable $9.80.
Bang Bang gets its seafood delivered from the markets every day. This is why you’ll see a full sushi and sashimi menu (we love the omakase nigiri, draped in the day’s squeaky fresh catch); or a humble yakisoba upgraded with mussels and blue swimmer crab. It helps that a former Nobu Tokyo chef is running the kitchen. Kokubo Yuji’s dishes may be fun, but they also mean business. A simple ‘lava omurice’ lives up to its name — the just-set omelette runs, lava-like, when you cut into the fluffy egg blanket that covers a small dome of tangy tomato fried rice.
From the 10-page drinks menu (it’s a serious drinking hole after all), there are hoppy Bang Bang lagers or an Asahi Black on tap. Go for a fruity chuhai (sochu highball) served in an orange shell, or make like a Shinjuku tourist and get a litre of ‘otakastic’ party mixers for the table. These fizzy shared cocktails — sake, Margarita and other spring break-y flavours — are served in a bar butler pump. It’s the final lifeline that unmoors you from Sydney and sets you adrift in this brightly-lit sea of Japanese fun.