Smoke, steam and fire rule supreme at the new Japanese hotspot Shõbõsho, which sees restaurant guru Simon Kardachi and chef Adam Liston bring their spin on yakitori bars to Leigh Street.
Every good choose-your-own adventure story starts with a decision. At Shōbōsho that decision is an easy one — take the set of chopsticks and head to Leigh Street and down a darkened set of stairs through the secret doors of underground bar Maybe Mae. This is Shōbōsho’s holding bay and beats waiting in the cold for a table. On presentation of the chopsticks, they’ll serve discounted cocktails while you wait for your table, tracked via a handy app that allows us to time drinks appropriately. One ‘final call’ cocktail thanks. Japanese whiskey with mandarin and lemon seems like a suitable way to kick things off.
With a timely ding we’re back across the laneway and seated at the bar of the newest venture by Simon Kardachi (the culinary brain behind eateries Press*, Melt, Osteria Oggi and many others). Shōbōsho’s interior offers a contemporary spin on the celebrated yakitori bars of Tokyo, paper-screened timber booths wrap the walls of the interior with long oval tables centred in the space all set for raucous banqueting.
The open kitchen showcases a team hard at work over grill and flame. Shōbōsho attempts to be all about the experience and for the most part they have it. While I do appreciate dinner and a show, being an audience member to a series of jokes from indiscreet chefs — who should save it for the scullery — isn’t what I had in mind on this night. I think I’ll skip the bar and book one of those booths next time. Thankfully, the kitchen antics don’t represent the quality of the food.
The venue offers ‘Feed Me’ or ‘Feed and Water-Me’ menus. With sommelier-about-town Joshua Picken responsible for the drinks list, the latter option is a must. Picken’s recent travels to Japan means that each dish is matched with the perfect wine, Japanese whiskey or sake. But first, breakfast.
Raw tuna is combined with charred edamame, black rice and bonite cream in a savoury sashimi cereal of sorts. This is a fun play on a very serious starter; flavoursome and textured this gets a positive verbal reaction from around the table. Of course, no Aussied-up Asian menu is complete without the ever-faithful prawn cracker and Shōbōsho had given the royal treatment to theirs, as each crunchy cracker-base is topped with spicy prawns minced in a piquant seaweed mayonnaise that offers sweet, salty and umami with each bite.
Surf ‘n’ turf is a Kewpie lover’s paradise. A generous block of shellfish toast is coated with this calorie-conscious mayonnaise and then topped with barbequed strips of Waygu. The dish disappears quickly as if by some sort of ancient Japanese sorcery. To complete the spell, XO calamari arrives, offering a lighter dish of citrusy greens and tender rings of smoky squid alongside the ‘king of yakitori’ Tsukune chicken meatballs and a pool of sticky sauce that are just delightful.
A second serving of Wagyu is delivered through the pass (along with another series of brash quips from the kitchen). This time in the form of Mayura Station oyster blade cubes in another skewered dish that has us singing praise to the deities. Since a recent jaunt to Japan and related yakitori overload, I’ve never tried better. What part of the beast do these succulent morsels come from? Somewhere between the heart and the soul is my guess. Of course we order seconds.
We wrap up the Shōbōsho adventure with a black sesame ice-cream sandwich wrapped in chocolate chards. It’s somewhat savoury with a light bitterness that attests that a simple dessert can forge complexity when provoked. But their sweet signature of the night is a masterpiece of pumpkin and miso icecream covering a sliver of firm ginger cake and hidden cream cheese. This final serving has me hungry for more and a promise to return.
17 Leigh Street
Tuesday to Friday, 11.30am to late, Saturday and Sunday, dim sum at 11am and 1pm, normal menu resumes 3pm
Photography: Sia Duff