As is often the case, we start this week’s adventure with a small dispute. What the hell is an izakaya anyway? Japanese tapas says Strop, full of the glib confidence of someone informed by friends. Personally I thought it was something to do with matching food and drink, having once misread a good food guide entry. Turns out that we are both just right enough to save face and to assure ourselves that we were each more right (or less wrong than the other). The great wikipedia reckons that izakaya are basically sake shops that let you sit around and drink on the premises, and they provide a bit of food to soak up the alcohol. Makes sense, the three places I have been to that called themselves izakayas have all been liberally decorated with sake bottles. I suspect that is where the similarity ends though, as most of the emphasis is on the food here.
Iiza has been around for a couple of years now and has always looked a bit exotic from the outside (cool name – izakaya trendyness – scarcity of japanese joints on the King Street – wishful thinking – all of that). Strop and I were looking forward to trying it out. We did have vague plans to include some other participants in the outing, but it’s been a busy time. Strop reckons it felt as if someone had grabbed the back of her belt on Sunday night and given her the bum’s rush through the week. So it’s another Friday night with only ourselves for company.
It could be romantic, date night, even. But we blow our chances at the first hurdle. After both arriving within a few minutes of 7:00, we fail utterly to recognise the presence of each other. We are 2 metres apart, sending txt msgs to each other ARE YOU GETTING CLOSE? – I’M HERE – WHERE IIZA?? COS THAT’S WHERE I AM. “Oh there you are!” we both exclaim, finally having a good look around. After nearly forty years, we are invisible to each other apparently. The staff are bemused, it’s not as if Iiza is a big a place, and it is certainly not packed.
Wine. We need wine. Strop turns down the option of sake in favour of a nice flinty West Australian riesling. And food. We order a couple of specials (raw beef and seared salmon sashimi), gyoza and vegetable sushi rolls. That should get us started. The Iiza decor includes the requisite giant sake bottles, and calligraphy, and it is very brightly lit by large white paper lanterns. A small arrangement of origami at the counter is a nice touch.
Unfortunately the specials turn out to be disappointing, tender but without much flavour. The gyoza are a winner however, and the sushi are good too, despite crumbling under the clumsy onslaught of my chopsticks.
Well, that lot didn’t last long – we are going to need reinforcements. My turn with the menu now: duck teriyaki, (never had that before, and pleasingly, but totally irrelevantly, it is item number 37), and pork belly. The waitress is sorry to inform me that unfortunately some other bastard has eaten the last of the duck teriyaki. I build a bridge and get over my outrage, ordering assorted tempura instead.
The pork belly comes in a broth and is sweet tender and entirely edible. The tempura is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, with lots of vegies but only 3 prawns.
All in all Iiza is a bit disappointing. Some of it was nice enough but nothing was really outstanding. There are good izakaya joints out there – just not on King Street so far. We went to one in Surry Hills a couple of weeks ago that had loads of sake and japanese beers, as well as flavour packed food (charcoal grilled octopus :-).
We had high hopes for Iiza but we have been reminded once again that this is King Street, and unexpected delights like Thai La-Ong are few and far between.
What’s next? No idea, I’ll just check with Strop.