Hole in the Wall | 19th Dec 2014
Bird’s Nest is authentic, understated, relaxed, and classy – a welcome addition to the West End dining scene.
Walking into Bird’s Nest is like stepping back in time, to a time before Harajuku Gyoza and Teppanyaki Time, but not quite as far back as feudal Japan. Back in this undefined past of mine, Japanese restaurants were decked out with sliding doors, dark wood panelling and – if you were lucky – tatami mats. There was a sense of mystery or even danger about the menu, and you’d probably learn a handful of new words throughout the meal. Nowadays, of course, Japan is more familiar to us than it’s ever been, and the dark interiors and sense of adventure have been replaced by bright colours and cartoon logos.
Bird’s Nest doesn’t ignore the growing popularity of Japanese food and culture, but it definitely aims for something less kawaii and more traditional. That’s not to say it’s stuffy – the place is relaxed and cool right down to its chair legs. From the heavy wooden doors to the cosy lighting and walls made to look like stylised woodblock prints, the fit-out is very slick. And there’s the aforementioned wood panelling – enough of it to build a sauna.
The vibe fits with the breed of newer West End restaurants like Chop Chop Chang’s and Habitat. It’s the same off-the-beaten-track experience you’d expect at West End, but the presentation is less basement and more mezzanine.
But you’ll hardly have time to take all that in as you’re greeted warmly and ushered politely to a table with staggering efficiency. In fact, when it comes to the service, polite efficiency seems to be the theme. Bird’s Nest was surprisingly busy for a Monday night, but food was appearing on tables before you knew it.
Sitting up at the bar and watching the chefs busily turning skewers of meat makes you feel like part of the team, in more ways than one. Your food comes to you fresh and hot straight off the grill. Unfortunately for me, staff behind the bar were so caught up with the cooking, it was easy to miss the description of the dish they were serving, and there wasn’t always time to ask them to repeat it. Exciting as the bar area is, I’d take a table next time.
Bird’s Nest is a Japanese yakitori restaurant. Or, if translated directly, it is a ‘grilled chicken’ restaurant – ‘grilled chicken’ referring to a kind of chicken shish kebab favoured in Japan as the ideal accompaniment to beer and sports. Now, let me pre-empt your concern, does the idea of a restaurant specialising solely in grilled chicken seem to be rather limiting? Just how many variations on grilled chicken can there really be?
Spoiler Warning: The answer is ‘lots’. Like ice-cream, salad, and Christian Bale, I discovered that there is an almost infinite adaptability to the humble grilled chicken that is amply exemplified at Bird’s Nest. From the subtle, delicate flavours of the ‘chicken thigh with shallots’ through to the powerful hit from the ‘tenderloin with wasabi mayonnaise’ not once did I feel limited in choice.
The inclusion of chicken heart, arteries (these are particularly good), and cartilage as options for the adventurous westerner establish Bird’s Nest as a restaurant motivated by authenticity rather than gimmicks (Did someone say Harajuku Gyoza?).
There is a reasonable selection of vegetarian options available at Bird’s Nest, however they are small in size and probably would not suffice as a filling main meal. Nevertheless, I can still imagine a vegetarian enjoying some yakitori at Bird’s Nest in the traditional manner – as a casual snack with beer and good company. The vegetarian options were as flavoursome as the meat skewers, with the highlight being the mushroom yakitori.
Whilst they didn’t have my favourite Japanese beer – Hitachino Nest White Ale – they stocked a decent selection of ales to accompany the food. The sake list expanded well beyond the horizons of my knowledge, however I spotted several familiar names from last year’s sake masterclass at Moga, which I took to be an excellent sign.
I had the ‘Omakase’ course which consists of an amuse bouche (Google kindly informs me that’s fancy talk for a sort of palate cleansing entree), 7 Chicken skewers, 2 vegetable skewers, a rice ball, desert, and an accompanying sake. This set menu costs $55/pp which, when broken down into its individual elements, turns out to be quite good value. 13 items divided by 55 works out to about $4.20 each.
That’s less than you’d pay for any of the good plates at a Sushi Train! And just quietly, how overdone is sushi these days? Yakitori is the way of the future – or more accurately, Brisbane’s future, since we’re late to the chicken skewer party that’s been going on in Japan for eons.
The value of Bird’s Nest value comes from the authenticity with which it delivers a new type of food to Brisbane – yakitori. Around the corner from Bird’s Nest is a a strange Korean restaurant advertising ‘gangnam style’ chicken with a decal of Psy doing that bizarre cross-armed dance. I cringe every time I pass it. Bird’s Nest is not like that. Bird’s Nest joins Habitat in quietly breaking the curse that seems to have plagued the food scene in that stretch of Melbourne Street.
In a word, you’d call Bird’s Nest ‘understated’; and that’s exactly the type of place that we at Hole in the Wall love to visit.