"You order like a Japanese person.” Our chef has leaned out from behind the glassed in kitchen, over the sushi counter to see who has ordered the grilled kingfish head. It’s definitely not the kind of elegant repast you’d choose on a hot date, because to get the best out of this dish involves digging around under the jaw bone, in the cheek and behind the fins for pockets of tender white meat which you’ll greet with the enthusiasm of a prospector striking a gold nugget. Abandon the chopsticks and get your fingers sticky, salty and marked with smoky charcoal from the fish skin that’s just come off the robata grill. It’s not pretty but crikey, it’s delicious.
The two compact coal grills work double time, applying a smoky kiss of char to skinless eggplant, chicken wings, meatballs, bunches of enoki mushrooms wrapped in thin ribbons of pork, shiitake mushrooms stuffed with chicken mince and even sticky glutinous rice cakes. Almost everything receives a shellac of sweet and salty soy-based yakitori sauce and then arrives in a single file parade, one item per plate.
Want sashimi? Nine generous slices at least a centimetre thick of salmon, tuna, and kingfish, plus a single, slippery white curl of squid and an exceptional, gleaming slice of snapper in a white soy dressing, make up the daily plate.
It takes some mental calisthenics to draw together all the menu items scattered across a folder, a laminated page of recommendations, a whiteboard with daily specials, and a weekday ramen offer for $15. Plastered across the wall space that isn’t decorated with helpful diagrams of chicken portions or shelves of sake bottles are yet more handwritten menus with banquet offers. There’s a lot of information coming at your from many white A4 sheets, and if you don’t keep your wits about you could forget to request the scallops served with roe on, in the shell, with miso butter from one page, or zucchini flowers stuffed with a creamy prawn mince in a tempura batter, served with matcha salt and a squeeze of lemon from the board. Maybe wait to order a round of spiked peach iced teas until after you’ve gotten your order in.
There’s no denying that a hard-working little izakaya like this feels incongruous in the proudly Italian enclave that is Haberfield’s high street. There’s a rustic, farmhouse quality to the room that goes some way to blending in with its staunchly European neighbourhood – this is the kind of weekday hero you’ll want to keep coming back to. If Haberfield has slipped from your regular suburban dinner trails, or you’ve only been dropping by for more ricotta cake, it’s time to drop a pin back on Ramsay Street for killer yakitori times in the most unlikely location.