Pick-up sticks is the name of the game at Darlinghurst's latest yakitori restaurant. In one of Sydney's main thoroughfares, where Oxford Street meets Crown amid a flurry of quick-fix fast-food, clubs, pubs and bottle shops, lives this surprisingly authentic Japanese experience.
Chaco Bar feels more intimate than small. The use of natural timbers and earthy shades creates warmth, while fanciful drop lights cast a welcome glow. The room is divided by a communal table which sits adjacent to an exposed kitchen gallery, where inside, the smells and sounds of meat against coals makes for a promising start to the evening.
The restaurant's name, Chaco Bar, comes from the word charcoal, and grilled yakitori is the house speciality. There are skewers of chicken hearts ($4) and heart pipes (not for the faint-hearted, $4), or gizzard skin ($4), pink-centred liver ($4) and gristle ($4) for the more gutsy.
The chef's selection of six ($26) is the best way to get acquainted with the form. For this you'll get a skewer of pork belly, chicken thigh, wing, and spicy lamb shoulder, as well as two of the chef's choosing, which are thoroughly enjoyable (as long as you don't ask what it is). All skewers come served on a bed of raw green cabbage, which lends a wholesome, fresh crunch to complement the sweet and sticky sauce. When you're finished with your sticks, follow suit and place your proud tally in the tin on the centre of the table.
Although it's tempting to stick with the sticks, there's also a number of outstanding otsumami (small dishes) to select from. The calamari ($17) served with black squid ink is remarkably good, and the aioli is rich, thick and theatrical. The tsukune house-made meatball with 62 degree egg ($16) is also exceptional; the soft gooey egg breaks open to make a gelatinous sauce for smothering all over the gingery chicken dumplings — it really raises the bar.
While desserts are typically scarce on Japanese menus, Chaco has three sophisticated options on offer. In particular, the six-month aged banana brandy granita with vanilla ice ($10) makes for a visually stunning Japanese snow egg. With the sweet warmth of alcohol balanced with the clean and fresh flavours of the ice, it's flawless.
While Chaco Bar waits for its liquor license, it's also BYO, but you hardly needed another reason to visit. Authentic, delicious and fun, the yakitori experience at Chaco Bar is sure to stick with you.
Images: Letícia Almeida.