Wear something nice and dark if you visit Cho Cho San. Not because there’s a dress code, but because that tiny stain on your shirt will pop out like a Yayoi Kusama installation against the restaurant’s spotlessly white, bright, eye-popping interiors. George Livissianis won an Australian Interior Design award for this date-night cinch back in 2015 – how is it possible that these glossy painted brick walls and wooden designer chairs still look so polished and fresh after all these years?
If Cho Cho San wanted to be a pretentious fine diner, it totally could be: it’s easy to imagine the air of exclusivity wafting into the antechamber as you anxiously wait to be seated. Instead though, this place hums with a fun and breezy energy – diners rub shoulders with bartenders along the concrete bar, where fun things like bright purple raspberry shiso slushies are slammed down alongside measures of top-shelf junmai sake, both of which hail from an ample and appealing drinks menu. The wine list features a very strong line-up of natural-leaning producers, with most bottles under the $100 mark. Take that, fine dining! Meanwhile, waitstaff trade jokes with one another as they relay a flurry of plates from the kitchen through the long space. It’s fast-paced and alive, just be prepared to compete for attention at times.
When it comes to the cuisine, it’s come one, come all – the menu caters to a wide variety of diners, like a good izakaya should. You’d be a fool not to kick things off with edamame; the soybeans arrive warm, juicy and clad in a hefty armour of nori and togarashi, a clear sign that the kitchen is willing to go the extra mile, even on the classics.
If you’re here for a low-key cocktail, grab a few bites from the izakaya snack section of the menu – a pillowy bao filled with a crunchy slab of tonkatsu or some syrupy miso eggplant skewers, perhaps – and call it dinner. They’re generous portions for the price and prevent that yuzu Spritz from shooting straight to your head. Experience the finesse of chef Max Smith’s sashimi skills by piling up a few items from the raw bar, something like the Petunia ocean trout, which comes coated in an oh-so-subtle pepper and wasabi oil. It leaves the palate feeling primed and buzzing for whatever’s next.
Things get messier in the menu’s more substantial meat and seafood section, especially so with a plate of teriyaki fish collars. The skin is sticky with the unmistakable flavour of quality miso, and the juicy flesh is beautifully charred. Dishes like agedashi tofu, spicy noodles and the dinner-plate-sized okonomiyaki are less memorable in the flavour department, but beautifully presented no less. Ask for a sake that will complement your dishes for maximum balance – the staff are very knowledgeable about the extensive list.
To dine at Cho Cho San is just as much about feasting the eyes as the taste buds. Order it all to share, try something you’ve never tried before from the drinks menu and brush shoulders with the breezy and beautiful clientele, any day of the week.