Time Out says
Woollahra’s high street was the last place we expected to find a moody izakaya hidden behind a poke bowl shop
Blue-ribbon suburbs don’t get more aspirational than Woollahra, with its leafy green canopy over historic stone mansions and an elegant high street where you can spend a mortgage repayment on a pair of casual slacks.
The stretch of Queen Street that houses Sydney’s fanciest butcher, Victor Churchill and a beloved charcoal chicken shop as well as fashion boutiques is pumping during daylight hours, but not much action can be found outside the Woollahra Hotel of a weeknight. Unless of course you know to walk into the little poke shop and through the sliding door at the back. The Narnia on the other side is like being inside a robata grill. Everything is the colour of charcoal, which only makes the jumping flames in the actual open-topped grill behind the bar feel more dramatic.
There are a few tables for two against one wall, and counter seating on the other side, with scant room for anything else. The food is cooked right there in the room with you over the glowing coals, which makes for far better entertainment than the continuous loop of repetitive anima scenes projected onto the wall above (why not just hit play on a whole movie?).
This is prime date night territory – you’d struggle to entertain more than a pair in this compact space, and the low lighting combined with a well considered wine list on a first-name basis with new world naturals like Ngeringa and nothing over $100 a bottle means romance can blossom without breaking the bank. Prefer sake? You’re in luck, as are fans of yuzu, which has a starring role in the two cocktail specials available on our visit.
Food here is a simple affair that goes well with drinking. It’s all cooked over the ‘wood of the month’ (Tassie grape in this instance) or in the deep fryer. Umami bread makes garlic bread look like a meek-mannered mouse, so fierce is the savoury impact of the black garlic butter spread over chewy slices. For more crowd-pleasing carb adventures order a katsu sando, with juicy crumbed pucks of chicken served between squares of generously charred bread and capped with Kewpie mayo – it’s classic booze food. A lobster roll in a soft white bun with gem lettuce is also a good call; but if you always thought your vegetables lacked punch prepare to eat your words along with the Brussels sprouts, fried until bronzed and crisp on the outside and doused in a pungent XO sauce
As fun as they sound, seaweed king prawns cooked in foil amongst the hot coals get overwhelmed by the soft sea vegetable wrapped around the meat. Next time we’ll opt for the fettucini that they cook in a pan over the grill with garlic, more seaweed and sake-cured egg yolk – it looks like a jazzy riff on a carbonara and smells amazing.
This is not a rowdy izakaya for salaymen, but rather an intimate spot for a low-light bite with a nice glass of wine, and it’s a pitch that suits the neighbourhood. Until now all the after-hours action was condensed up in Paddington, but this low profile haunt for night owls might signal a change in the air for this high profile pocket of aspirational Sydney.