Three years ago when born and bred locals, Mitch and Nerissa first introduced us to their buzzing Japanese izakaya, Etsu, the bar was seriously raised on the Gold Coast in terms of fitout, food, service and atmosphere—you know, the whole package.
Etsu created an expectation for quality and consistency among local diners and a realisation of what was truly possible here in our laidback surfside city. Yep, we can hand on heart thank this passionate, always-smiling duo for helping evolve the Gold Coast foodie scene to what we know and enjoy today.
This month, Etsu welcomed a new sister into the world—Iku Yakitori & Whisky Bar—and we have no hesitation in saying this place will elevate the stakes even higher again.
Emerging under a cloak of secrecy over the past few months, on one of the Coast’s most high-profile streets in Burleigh Heads, Iku has been a hands-on project for this gutsy team and they’re beyond stoked to finally invite you inside.
But prepare yourself, Gold Coast, because your mind is about to be blown. Like, boom!
Step past the simple façade, and you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to another world. Or, at the very least, another country. Whacking you in the face the moment you slip inside, it’s sensory overload with a solid cement, open-plan kitchen on full display. It’s atmospheric, narrow and bustling, and you’ll likely be rubbing shoulders with your neighbour when you pull up a front row seat at the yakitori bar, where steam wafts and the grill sizzles as ex-pat Japanese chefs work over the robata and white-hot binchotan charcoals.
On the left, the team have gone to great lengths to recycle old railway sleepers; each sliced into thirds to construct one-of-a-kind suspended booth seating, so raw and characterful you’ll wanna run your fingers over the knots in the aged wood as you sip on your sake. If you secure a booth, limber up those knees as you’ll be dining just as they do in Japan. Yep, you’ll be sitting cross-legged for the duration of your experience, tatami-style.
Underfoot, grey cobblestones curve and twist like an old pathway that feels like it’s been there forever and arduous-to-source reclaimed hardwood lines almost every surface. Adding warmth, soft glowing paper lanterns have been custom-made and shipped in from the motherland. It’s minimalist, but far from simple.
Though stepping through to the rear lounge bar area is where things get really interesting. Here, be seduced by flawless ambient light, surrounded by more panels of dark, aged hardwood, a cobblestone-topped bar and a totally sinkable blue velvet lounge with ample room for the whole gang and then some.
If you’re coming expecting a similar menu to Etsu, you’ll be mistaken. At Iku, they’re presenting a simple offering that hones right in on yakitori. For the inexperienced, yakitori translates to chicken skewers and a technique utilising every part of the bird, from breasts and thighs, to chicken skin, liver, heart and oyster, each carrying its own subtle flavour difference and paired with fresh wasabi or special seasonings and sauces made from house recipes.
But these guys are practical. They appreciate the yakitori barbecued skewer style of dining will not be everyone’s cup of tea. Especially when you spot some of the chicken parts you’re invited to nibble on (arteries, anyone?). It’s the same reservations they met a few years back when first introducing Etsu and their spin on traditional Japanese. Though they also know your palettes have matured and you foodies are adventurous types these days.
While a traditional yakitori bar is almost exclusively skewers, they are complimenting the robata grill menu with options suitable for vegos, from flavour-packed salads to agedashi tofu, along with a select number of raw dishes from Hiamasa kingfish to beef tartare, plus karaage chicken, Wagyu sirloin 7+, traditional Oyakodon, chicken udon soup and liver pate (again, making use of the whole chicken).
If you’ve got your nose slightly twisted, remember for a moment, this is chef Tomo and the Etsu team, and whatever they serve, it’ll be knock-out-of-the-park fabulous.
Iku’s back bar is where bartender extraordinaire himself, Adam Bastow will bring his insane mixology skills to the table, delivering a weekly cocktail menu with a focus on whatever is in season at the time. And, of course, the Japanese whisky selection will be bonkers. With an effortless touch of dinner theatre and plans for intimate jazz band appearances, we can foresee many intentions for ‘just one drink’ ending in a long, entertaining night tucked away back here. When you’re done? Slip outside via the rear barn door entrance to cool back alley speakeasy, Lockwood.
It’s time Gold Coast; Iku Yakitori & Whisky Bar is now open. Get set to meet your new crush.
What: Iku Yakitori & Whisky Bar
Where: 1730 Gold Coast Highway, Burleigh Heads
When: Open seven days, 5pm ‘til late
Want to learn more about the legends behind the Coast's favourite Japanese? We chat with Mitch & Nerissa here.
Image credit: Hayley Williamson for The Urban List