[UPDATED JANUARY 2013]
Much of our obsession with hole-in-the-wall restaurants stems from recreating those magic travel moments from overseas, such as our favourite yakatori bar in Tokyo (pictured above), wedged in a pedestrian underpass near a less than flashy part of Ginza. Folks from all walks of life sit around boozing, yakking and snacking on yakatori, meat skewers cooked on hot coals.
It's an experience we've never quite found in Sydney, until we wander down Abercrombie Street and see a Japanese guy cooking yakatori on hot coals on the footpath. Our Japan-o-phile eyes jump out of our heads in delight.
The joint is run by a bunch of very friendly Japanese folks. We couldn't quite catch where in Japan the yakatori guy was from (somewhere between Tokyo and Mount Fuji) but he said he's been downunder for twenty years, and Jap's Table is his first restaurant. The menu is a mix of donburi (rice bowls with yummy stuff on top), sushi, a couple of ramens, and of course, yakatori.
Jap's Table has only been open a couple of weeks. We've come to love small restaurants when they have just opened, when they are just working out their menu and we get to try some of the more interesting dishes that get pulled off the menu after they find Joe Public doesn't go for it. We reckon we might have been lucky to try yakatori classics such as chicken skin and giblets (must go back for the chicken hearts), we don't know if these will last long.
Cooked over hot charcoal and dripping in a sweet soy sauce, these yakatori ($2.80 per stick) are tender and delicious. If they were crisped up a bit more on the outside they would have been close to perfect. We try two each of chicken thigh, giblets and skin. There's also heart available, not for the faint of. If you're chicken then you can stick to the thighs, but try stretching to the skin yakatori, these are so naughty and nice. Just like Japan, innards are a big part of yakatori and taste much better than they sound, we're so happy to have this so close to home.
Yakatori are bar snacks, made for nibbling on with a beer. Grab a sixpack across the road from the Glengary Castle (there might be some corkage payable, just check first). Over summer we plan to bring some Japanese beers and sake from Tokyo Mart.
Tokyo and Yokohama ramen - $9.50. The Tokyo ramen (left) has a clear, thin, plain-tasting broth based on chicken stock, a lighter style of ramen you could eat everyday. The Yokohama ramen (right) - has a similarly thin broth but based on pork stock, it is darker and more flavoursome and the noodles have a nicer chew to them. The slices of pork are thick and tender, the soft boiled googies are divine. These ramens take us back to Tokyo, reminding us of the less complex styles of ramen we've had in old man noodle bars, diners, and on the street late at night.
The donburis (rice bowls or 'dons') are served in lovely lacquered box thingies. The chyashu (roast pork) don ($9.50) is a winner, with two types of swine including the rich juicy fatty pork belly type bits used in the ramen. The pork was wonderful but it was the veggies that blew Mr Shawn's mind: delicately chopped greens, gently cooked and sweet from a little mirin or sake we guess. We hope they make a vege don with silken tofu and these amazing greens.
The raw salmon don ($9.50) is excellent. The salmon roe adds a nice fish, salty and textural touch. And Miss Chicken guesses the sesame seeds are toasted and salted, adding a nice punch. We found that a don and a sushi roll each filled us nicely for lunch.
Jap's Place can do all the authentic streetwise chicken skin yakatori they like, but we reckon it's the sushi that will pay the rent. Australians love sushi. We see far more sushi bars around in Australia than we do in Japan. The sushi rolls at Jap's Place are nice and fresh, and just a little different. Look out for specials on the board and in the little footpath display. The most interesting for us was the pickled mackerel sushi ($4) in the bottom corner, salty, hearty and rustic. $4.00. There's also inari pockets with plum or wasabi that have the siren call on them for us to return.
A lot of work has gone into the interior since the previous tenant, Saucepan and it looks good. On our visits we've seen a lot of passers-by take one look and come in off the street for a feed, it's a promising start. The little tables at the back have secret spaces to stash your big western legs, no need to contort.
Eating alfresco in Darlington isn't quite as exciting as Ueno or Yakitori Alley, but with the help of some Cooper's Pale, we can pretend.
[BACK AGAIN, JANUARY 2013]
We drop in for a quick lunch on a Saturday and we're so happy to see that Jap's table is doing well. Locals seem to have really taken to the place. Jap's Place is special.
We try the Yokohama ramen ($9.50) again, it's better than we remember, not best-in-town but great for a restaurant that doesn't specialise in ramen.
[Back again February 2013]
Mr Shawn worked a five week stint nearby and ate at Jap's table nearly every day, and never got tired of it. It was salmon don almost every visit but he did break it up a little with the Yakitori don - $9.50. Grilled chicken on place rice. So simple yet so good.
Unatama don - $9.50. Eel and egg on rice. There's a nice but no overpowering fishy flavour to the eel, we're accustomed to having this masked with bbq-style sauce in a lot of Japanese dish. The egg adds some body to it. Love it.
Jap's Table is at Shop 6/ 245-249 Abercrombie St.
View Larger Map