Isabel — CLOSED
Head to this Bondi izakaya for skewers of baby octopus and wagyu and cocktails made with finger lime, pickled cabbage and burnt miso.
Among the beachside bars, boutique stores, surf shops and ice cream parlours of Bondi Beach, there's a moody new Japanese restaurant. Isabel is located in an intimate space with mahogany furniture, leather booths, yakitori and highballs served in chunky crystal glasses.
Fronted by a group of Sydney hospitality elite — Geraint Coles and Mitchell Slattery of Panama House, Michael Riley of Milk Box Tuckshop and award-winning bartender Kate McGraw — Isabel takes inspiration from the izakayas of Japan. It's where you can go to enjoy tapas-like snacks with beautifully designed cocktails.
The idea for an izakaya came from the space itself. The team had been searching for the perfect location for a long time — and when the Campbell Street spot popped up, they knew it was the place. "Our approach was 'what would you do with this space?' and the answer came straight away: a Japanese style bar," says McGraw.
Like traditional izakayas, drinks are the focus at Isabel. "We are a beverage-focused venue, which dictated what we do across the board," explains McGraw. "We wanted to create a food menu that adds and encourages, rather than inhibits, what we are doing on the beverage side."
On that food menu, you'll find traditional Japanese street food with contemporary Australian twists. Sydney rock oysters are topped with kelp ponzu, NSW wagyu beef is served with miso mustard and baby octopus is skewered and lathered in fermented capsicum. Speaking of skewered items, there's a whole heap of yakitori and kushiyaki on the menu, too, including teriyaki wings, tsukune (chicken meatballs) and miso eggplant.
Isabel also houses one of Australia's largest collections of whiskies and at least 40 different sakes. But, according to McGraw, it's the cocktail menu that will really bring the hordes. On it, you'll find five highballs, signature cocktails, non-alcoholic options and 'danger juice'. Made using ingredients such as burnt miso, toasted sesame, quandong and pickled cabbage, every cocktail is nearly a meal in itself.
Go for the Blossom (with vodka, finger lime and coconut mirin) if you're after something light and refreshing or the Miso (with burnt miso, toasted sesame, quandong and Pierre Ferrand 1840) for something a little darker and heavier.
While she recommends every drink on the beverage list, McGraw is particularly partial to the highballs: "They are so simple in there construction, but so complex when the sum of all the parts work in harmony. It makes it a beautiful thing to sip on."
And what exactly is the house-made 'danger juice'? Essentially fruit wine. The team juiced and fermented around 50 kilos of seasonal fruit (such as nashi pears and persimmons), which proved a little lethal. "After a few glasses on the first test run, we knew it definitely needed to come with a warning," says McGraw.
Images: Kimberley Low.