A small Japanese whisky bar tucked away in a laneway of Surry Hills, Tokyo Bird serves specialty Japanese whiskies and yakitori. The cocktail list changes fortnightly in tune with the 24 seasons in the Japanese calendar.
Keen readers will recall that I recently wrote about my friend Belinda's experiences on Tinder and how things look from a single straight woman's perspective. But it was when we were planning a visit to Tokyo Bird, a whisky bar and yakitori place in Surry Hills that Mr NQN suggested that we invite his friend, The Wizard.
The Wizard (long story about his name but it is here if you want to read it) is also on Tinder so I knew that if anything we would get his side of the story, the straight male perspective if you will. But first things first. Where is Tokyo Bird? Well the actual address is on Commonwealth Street (which they share with a swinger's club) but the actual entrance is on Belmore Lane.
The concept behind Tokyo Bird is that it is predominantly a whisky bar. Run by Jason Ang (Gilt Lounge and Sokyo) and Yoshi Onishi (Stitch Bar and Victoria Room) it has been open since December 2014. Even on a Tuesday night it is busy and we nab a cosy corner booth (built by the trio using 80-year-old salvaged wood from Sydney’s west). They hand us a two sided menu whose cocktail list changes 24 times a year to coincide with the 24 seasons in a Japanese calendar. On one side are whiskies served over hand chipped balls or as Old Fashioneds with Japanese themed cocktails, beer, wine and sake. The syrups are made in house using in season fruit.
Clockwise from left: Old Fashioned with Yamazaki 12 year old $20 and Basil Hayden 10 year old whisky $18, Harajuku $17 and Daisy $17
The Wizard is a whisky enthusiast - in fact when Mr NQN invited him his only words were "I love whisky" in lieu of a yes. He admires the expertly and neatly made Old Fashioneds. I try both and they're both distinctly different, the Basil Hayden being more complex in flavour while the Sapporo Blend has a distinct aniseed aroma. My Daisy cocktail with Casadorez, Luxardo Cherry, grilled lime and sugar is perfectly balanced and sweet while Belinda's Harajuku with Grey Goose lychee, lemon and prosecco is tart and refreshing.
We ask about Japanese whiskies versus Scotch and Yoshi tells us, "Japanese whiskies have become very popular in recent years due to their approachability and increased profile off the back of some major award wins. While Japanese whiskies were initially styled on Scotch whiskies, Japanese distilleries aren't restricted in the same way as traditional Scotch distilleries and so they can experiment and vary their techniques and flavours more - they've been able to produce whiskies designed for the Japanese palate and that's clearly appealing to a more global audience too now. Japanese whiskies are known to be more subtle than their Scotch counterparts yet still very balanced, and they're an ideal starting place for drinkers who are new to whisky."
We're too busy talking about The Wizard's dating life to decide on food so we just ask them to bring some sticks to share. The menu is yakitori which are grilled items on skewers and many are sold as a minimum of two skewers although any number above two can be ordered. We are given a bamboo cylinder for the used sticks.
Aribiki cheese sausage $3.50 each
The first to arrive are the *Aribiki *or cheese sausage sticks. Most of the menu items are made in house except for these. They come with a small warning - they squirt cheese when hot! They're smokey pork sausages with liquid cheese inside. They remind me instantly of my time living in Tokyo.
Shiitake mushroom skewers $2.50 each
What ends up being a favourite for Belinda and I are the shiitake mushroom skewers, all savoury umami goodness. The fresh shiitakes are plump, well seasoned and utterly moreish.
Thigh and shallot skewers $3.50 each
The chicken thigh and shallot or negi in Japanese is tender and juicy with a nice amount of char.
Tsukune or meatball skewers $3.50 each
I used to love tsukune or chicken meatballs when I lived in Japan but I found that some weren't as good as others. These are an excellent specimen of meatball. They're very large and juicy and well flavoured and brushed with a sweet house made tare sauce that makes them pop.
They ask for some whisky recommendations and Jason brings two over. The first is an Auchentoshan 3 wood that is matured in American Bourbon oak and finished in Spanish Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez casks and has a distinct raisin aroma. The second is a Monde Royal Crystal with its list of thirteen aromas including sweet lemon, smoke, malt, chocolate, honey and pear. It is made by Monde Shuzou, predominantly known as a wine maker it is a blend of single malt whisky aged 10 years and grain whisky. Mr NQN goes for the Auchentoshan 3 wood as he loves Pedro Ximinez.
Hearts $3.50 each
The rhythm here is to order a drink and a few sticks and nibble on these and order more as you want (they come out quickly) so we order a few more bites. By now the smoke is filling the joint from the yakitori grill and they set down some chicken hearts. I pop one into my mouth and it is absolutely delicious. The plump hearts are juicy and without a strong offal flavour to them.
Pork belly $3.50 each
The pork belly is all unctuousness and sweet char. Some pieces are just fat while others are a mix of fat and meat. It's best to get a couple of pieces in your mouth to get a mixture of meat and juicy fat.
Yaki scallops $4.50 each
By now we're getting quite full. It's amazing how full you can get from some food on sticks (and there goes my theory about cocktail food not having calories :P). The scallops are large Japanese scallops well cooked so that they are still soft and juicy on the inside.
Creamy sesame cabbage $5.50
Feeling the need for some vegetables, we order a salad. It's a simple Japanese style salad with thinly sliced cabbage and a creamy sesame dressing and pieces of tomato. By now it's getting late. There is no dessert but if you are looking for a change of scene, there are other small bars in the area - as well of course as a swinger's club should you be so inclined!
So tell me Dear Reader, are you a whisky drinker? What is your drink of choice? And have you ever eaten heart and if so, did you like it?
This meal was independently paid for.
Entry on Belmore Lane, Shop 2, 226-228 Commonwealth Street, Surry Hills NSW 2010
Tel: +61 (02) 8880 0788
Mon - Sat: 4.00pm - midnight