My City Life | 20th January 2015
It is only over the last few years that animal off cuts are emerging onto our Western plates – and even then, this is mainly limited to beef, lamb and pork. All around Asia and for centuries, kitchens have incorporated the skin, entrails, liver, kidneys and heart into their cuisine and medicines, aware of the benefits for both palate and body.
No longer restricted to tables of the impoverished or exotic, Westerners are accepting these rustic ingredients as part of the foodie journey. The Japanese Yakitori has always engaged with poultry off cuts, and particularly since the last decade of the 1800s when the tide for vegetarian Japan began to include meat eaters, The Yakitori has evolved into quite the art form. Translating directly from Japanese as grilled bird, Yakitori is traditionally a snack, with bits and pieces lanced onto a bamboo skewer and delicately grilled over binchōtan charcoal.
A traditional white charcoal from the ubame oak, the fineness and quality of binchōtan means that it burns longer at lower temperatures making it easy for Yakitori Chefs to cook with. And as the charcoal of a pure hardwood, any offshoot tastes are minor and very clean, shining the spotlight on the natural flavours of the ingredients. Commonly focused on bite-sized pheasant, quail and pigeon meat, entrails, liver, kidneys and heart, the popularity of chicken in the West has seen this feathered fowl join the Yakitori menu across the last century. The Yakitori is an informal and lively restaurant, crafted to the evening crowd of office workers on their way home and scenesters preparing to head out on the town. As a convenient and handy urban eating retreat, it’s surprising there are not more Yakitori’s around The City. But Bird’s Nest Yakitori & Bar in West End is certainly pioneering The Way of The Skewer.
The ambiance of Bird’s Nest is very Japanese; departing from classic customs of sushi, sashimi, miso, to minimal modern zen that wonderfully adapts to West End’s culture. With dark wooden interiors and a sit up bench overlooking all the action of the open grill, it’s an aesthetically pleasing and compact space – for the Japanese do know how to make the most of limited area. And yet, while the expanse is condensed, the intimacy of Bird’s Nest presents all the thrill of an exposed grill, complete with fragrant smoke and roaring flames to accompany the deft piercing of foods onto skewers. This is further enhanced by the babble from each table and the eager clamour of the traditional Irasshaimase greeting each guest as they walk through the doors. Bird’s Nest sets the scene as a wonderfully dynamic and interactive food experience. It’s a slice of downtown Nihon in Boundary Street, transporting guests to Omoide-yokocho, with all the dynamic energy of Tokyo’s Shinjuku.
It is just as much about the sochu, beer and sake, as it is about the food, bolstering that sense of spirit The Yakitori is renowned for. As a result, Bird’s Nest presents an extensive menu, tending to all liquid and nibble needs – including a handy Yakitori Know How that passes on historical tidbits and common phraseology in the techniques, condiments, dishes and order of mastication. For this is The Way Of The Yakitori: a journey of nurturing the mind, belly, palate and soul.
The Nihonshu menu offers an extensive menu of Australian craft beers and grape varieties, with bio dynamic and organic wines from within Australia or across the big pond. Popular Nama Biru Japanese beers, 16 options of sake, all four Japanese whiskies and five types of Shōchū – on sale by the glass and bottle which can be kept up to two months onsite – means it’s an education in Japanese liquor.
The Yakitori Food Menu offers Chef’s Choice Omakase, Bird Nest Sets of the 10 Skewer Set, the 7 Skewer Set and the Vegetarian 7 Skewer Set or the A-La-Carte of side dishes and Sumibi Yaki and rice. At Bird’s Nest, while off cuts avoids food wastage, there is absolutely no scrimping on quality.
The orthodox starter of edamame is always a pleasing commencement to the meal. This dish of boiled soy bean quells the appetite somewhat, as smoky flavours of the grilling meats and vegetables swirl seductively across the nostrils. The Zaru Tofu is a curious delight to the palate, the organic silken tofu with dressings of Cudgegong Valley Olive Oil, Himalayan pink salt, soy sauce and shallots cleansing and light. This lustrous jelly-like bean curd is incredibly delicate and tender, allowing for the dressings to surprisingly revitalize each new mouthful: the pink Himalayan shio’s saliferous taste uplifted by the pleasing umami of soy and enhanced by the freshness of the olive oil and sharpness of shallots. Deep fried tofu is a culinary revelation, though the silken option is certain to expand the palate-otheca. Any Japanese establishment is defined by their chicken kaarage – that delicate frizzle of chicken coated in seasoned potato flour and balanced to the tongue with twice-fried juiciness. Bird’s Nest Tori Kaarage is especially luscious and flavoursome, particularly with the touch of wasabi mayonnaise.
The Sumibi Yaki – translating as charcoal grill – is seared skewer snacks; the ingredients enhanced by Bird’s Nest’s pink Himalayan shio or tare sauce – a house-made recipe of master stock conventionally blending mirin, sake, shoyu soy sauce and sugar. The savoury sweetness of the tare gives the skewered elements an added complexity. The Sumibi Yaki are best for veterans of The Skewer, where trussed chicken thighs, livers, wings, hearts, arteries, skin, meatballs, quail eggs, pork belly, mushrooms, asparagus, tomatoes, onion and zucchini are lavished with mustard, flavourings, dressings, mayos, vinegars and butters for the ultimate relish to the tastebuds.
The Sets offers a thorough food exploration, while the Chef’s Omakase Course serves up 12 transcendent courses of share plate-degustation – including the shouga no purin, a Japanese inspired Crème Caramel dessert, infused with ginger and made with organic eggs and one of the very rare, non-skewered dishes.
With a primarily gluten-free menu, the high-end selection of produce is evident in their choice of organic, bio dynamic, premium ingredients in thirst quenchers to tidbits. Expect only the best, in produce, service and presentation where at Bird’s Nest, welcome to Japan on a stick.