Some of the best booze action in Surry Hills is the hardest to find. The Wild Rover
keeps a very low profile and 121 BC
blends in amongst the neighbouring garages like some sort of urban chameleon. And the new Japanese whisky bar tucked off Commonwealth Street on Belmore Lane is certainly not going out of its way to draw attention to itself – we have to point it out to people who work almost directly across the road.
Through the sliding glass door the tunes are kept low and chat is animated, so the volume sits at a comfortable hubbub in spite of the black and white tiles, exposed brick and huge glass windows lining the room. Try and annex the booth built on a little raised platform at the far end – it’s the bar equivalent of getting the window seat and extra leg room. If not, grab perches on the tall timber bar that runs the length of the room, which is narrow enough to comfortably talk across.
The bar and kitchen split the counter space evenly, with pride of place given to Japanese whiskeys. You can drop a tenner on the Suntory Kakubin (weirdly it’s $12 to have it as a highball) or invest $45 on a single shot of Ichiro’s Malt Chibidaru. We split the difference and order up an Old Fashioned made with the 12-year-old Yamazaki, which arrives nicely balanced. The house twist on a Moscow Mule mixes Kaukubin with ginger, lemon juice and soda, and it tickles your tongue like sherbet. We like that they answer the tart citrus not with sugar but with a flash of peat from some Laphroaig in the finish. There’s Asahi and Denmark’s Somersby dry cider on tap right now, but they also have fun Japanese beers like the Robot Ninja pale ale and cans of Yona Yona American pale ale.
Bar snacks are a good time at Tokyo Bird. They keep the yakitori grill behind the counter packed with chicken bits (thigh, wing, liver, hearts, giblets), sausages, scallops, and pork belly. And they’re not afraid to stray from protein – they also chuck zucchini, shiitake mushrooms, cherry tomatoes or eggplant over the coals.
How much do you love eggplant? If the answer is heaps, order two little skewers of slightly chewy segments glazed in sweet miso sauce. Anyone ambivalent to aubergine should opt for the chicken thigh. Gently charred skewers of fillet run through with flavoursome seams of fat are separated by little girders of green onion and then coated in a sweet, sticky soy sauce (tare). Overcooked chicken hearts can be chewy, but here you get two skewers with five tender little bullets of lean, marinated meat. The hearts have a stronger, gamey flavour so to get a long-time yakitori fan and first-time offal eater on board, ask them to go harder on the tare.
The katsu nuggets here are no ordinary chicken snack. Juicy white meat morsels come crumbed, crunchy and dabbed with tangy katsu sauce. They run out of chopsticks on our visit, but it's worth MacGyvering cutlery out of yakitori sticks to dip them in mayo and eat them while they're hot.
Sydney loves a whisky bar (that Baxter
queue isn’t getting any shorter) and we’re also partial to snacks on sticks, so we’re pretty stoked this place is combining the two. And the fact it’s a little off the beaten path just means your drink comes with a sense of achievement for having pinned down yet another bloody good small bar in Surry Hills.