186-188 Victoria St
Potts Point, NSW 2010
Chaco Bar is the place to get your yakitori on. And I’m talking real-deal yakitori, meticulously smoked over an open charcoal brazier, as opposed to whatever it is they do at most places that is most decidedly not that. But that’s where the tradition stops. The rest of the menu is all modern/fusion Japanese snacks and share plates, and although they have a wide range of sake, there’s also plenty of grapes and funky cocktails on offer. The restaurant itself – moved from its original hole-in-the-wall digs in Darlinghurst in 2019 – is also a far-cry from the dingy little alleyway stalls you’d normally find yakitori. In fact, it’s probably one of the most charming spaces I’ve been in all year. But now for the unpleasantness: also unlike traditional yakitori restaurants, the prices here border on eye-popping. But if you’ve got about $100 each just burning a hole in your pocket (more if you drink), then Chaco Bar is as good of a place to spend your evening as any.
Rating: 14/20 – points lost for scary prices.
Good to know: yes the tsukune (meatballs) are meant to have bits of cartilage in them, just lean into the extra texture.
Must-order: spanner crab chawanmushi
Funny story about me and Chawanmushi ($15). My mum used to make a simpler version of this all the time when I was growing up. It was basically steamed egg seasoned with soy sauce and sesame oil. And I loved it. I loved it so much. Until one day I slorped one bowl too many, and all of a sudden I couldn’t even think about it without throwing up. It’s taken me about 20 years to slowly get over my phobia, with dishes like this one speeding the process along. My god is this decadent. With the texture of crème caramel, this wobbly egg custard is infused with the umami notes of dashi, and a decadent gloss of shellfish butter. Absolutely delightful on its own, but definitely enhanced by the sweet flakes of spanner crab on top.
I’ve heard that the Uni-Wagyu ($42) is another must-order, and whilst it’s certainly good, I don’t feel like it justifies the price tag. The paper-thin slices of wagyu carpaccio, creamy sea urchin, and pungent truffle is everything wanton, especially when mixed through with a makeshift sauce of parmesan and egg yolk. But although it’s full of rich flavours, there’s nothing overly special about this one.
The Ika Salad ($33), however, is delicious. The pearly slices of baby squid are charred tender-crisp, and drowned in a chilli oil that makes my beloved Lao Gan Ma taste bland. The addition of pickled cucumber adds texture and freshness, whilst the filmy wakame at the bottom provides depth with its delicate brininess. Definitely do not miss this one.
Can you go wrong with Bangalow Sweet Pork Belly ($7.5ea)? This is fatty, smoky, and basically everything you could possibly want in a yakitori skewer.
Possibly even more decadent is the Chicken Crackling ($7), which is exactly what it sounds like. The crisp crevices in the skin are glazed with a teriyaki sauce that caramelises to toffee-sweetness over the charcoals, and it is as addictive as it is rich.
Though not served on a skewer, the Tsukune Meatball ($8.5ea) bears the unmistakably smoky embrace of charcoal. It’s served in a sweet and savoury sauce, with a gooey onsen egg to crack open for dipping. But if you ask me, the best part is the little pieces of chicken cartilage mixed through the mince, providing each bite with a unique and moreish texture.
To wrap up, a serve of Ninniku Meshi ($20). Never have I ever had a plate of fried rice where each grain is satisfyingly sticky, without it all conglomerating into an unappetising lump, but here we are. And that’s not all that’s special about this rice. Cooked in wagyu fat with an indecent amount of garlic mixed through, this is a hearty finisher that’s guaranteed to fill up what space is left in the stomach.
Unfortunately there are no non-alcoholics on the menu, but the Yubari Cooler ($21), though strong, is a goodie, It tastes exactly like one of those Asian melon-flavoured candies, with a light, crisp note of cucumber at the back to stop things from becoming cloying.