Traditionally a pint-sized bar where people sipped sake while standing—the izakaya has had a few modern interpretations since its earliest life in Tokyo.
The latest spin on the classic Japanese bar concept is Isabel in Bondi. It’s helmed by a group of Sydney dining pros—Geraint Coles and Mitchell Slattery of nearby Panama House, Michael Riley of Milkbox Tuckshop and Baja Mexican and multi-award-winning bartender and mixologist, Kate McGraw.
For Isabel, the izakaya idea is more of a springboard than a clear-cut definition—so yes, you can drink sake and order a little yakitori, but expect a few new, non-traditional and contemporary layers too. And the real gamechanger here will be McGraw’s lab-made high-flavour cocktails and fruit wine.
Alongside a selection of five slick highballs (our eyes are on the “Toki” with Suntory Toki, nashi pear and Kakadu plum), you’ll also find some pretty surprising savoury signature cocktails. For example, the “Soupcurry” with Bulleit bourbon, Hokkaido soup curry, toasted rice and pickled cabbage, and the “Miso” with burnt miso, Pierre Ferrand 1840, toasted sesame and quandong. Yep, if you’re game, that’s boozy broth charged with some very sophisticated flavours.
You can order cocktails a la carte, or try the tasting menu, degustation style (kaiseki). Your cocktail degustation can include four or six courses, each accompanied with snacks.
The “Danger Juice” segment of the drinks list is McGraw’s fruit wine. What is fruit wine you ask? Broadly speaking, it falls into the ferment family, including alcoholic beverages made from base ingredients other than grapes. At Isabel, you can try nashi pear, persimmon and mandarin wines.
"Fruit wine is something that we will continually be adding to the list, with batches of everything being cellared to be released later in the year,” says McGraw.
Oh, and Isabel also houses one of Australia’s largest whisky collections, as well as a solid selection of minimal-intervention wines and about 40 sakes to choose from.
As for what’s to eat, everything’s being cooked over pure binchotan charcoal on a robata grill. As well as cold and small snacks like Sydney rock oysters, edamame with coconut and vegan kimchi and scallops with ponzu and togarashi, Isabel’s yakitori has been tempered with native Australian ingredients.
Image credit: Isabel.