MELBOURNE | Northern Light Yakitori Bar is the slightly tweaked name of the slightly tweaked incarnation of one of The City Lane’s favourite Melbourne restaurants, Northern Light Bar & Eatery in Collingwood. When Northern Light first launched, the menu was what could best be described as modern Asian. The food was inspired predominantly by Japanese and Chinese cuisine but it also had elements of European cooking to it.
Over the past 18 months we’ve eaten at Northern Light several times and noticed as the menu moved away from it’s original guise into something much more Japanese focused. We’ve spoken to head chef and owner Adam Liston about his love for Japanese food on several occasions and his passion for both the ingredients, technique and flavour of authentic Japanese food is huge. We’ve been to Japan twice and can confidently say that the food we’ve eaten at Northern Light is some of the most authentically Japanese food we’ve ever tried.
One of the highlights of the Northern Light menu was always the yakitori, the grilled chicken skewers cooked over binchōtan imported from Japan. It’s a high quality white charcoal that’s used to cook yakitori in Japan – the fact that it burns at a lower temperature than regular charcoal for longer, while releasing no smoke gives the chicken a unique flavour. The chicken used by Northern Light is of the highest quality too – it’s free range, corn fed, chemical free, and the breed is specially selected to ensure the yakitori is just right – exactly how it is in Japan.
When we found out that Northern Light was changing its name to Northern Light Yakitori Bar, and putting more of a yakitori focus on the menu, we knew we had to visit and get our fix of grilled chicken, along with a few other new menu items. We were also keen to try a few of the new sakes on offer, including a very interesting new world sparkling sake.
Steamed Buns ($9.00)
There are 3 steamed buns on the menu (organic tofu, fried chicken, pork belly) and we couldn’t go past the fried chicken one. The quality of the chicken is immediate here – it’s super juicy and tender and contrasts beautifully with the light, crispy coating. Served with salted cucumber, pickled radish, kewpie & tonkatsu sauce, it’s one of the highlights on the menu. It was so good in fact that we ordered seconds towards the end of our meal despite being quite full.
Hāto – Heart, Garlic, Wasabi ($5.00)
One of the revelations eating yakitori in Japan is just how good grilled chicken heart is. A lot of people are unsure about it when they see it on the menu but it’s very common in Japan and we consider it one of our favourite yakitori items. The version at Northern Light is spot on – dense and springy without being chewy. It’s hard to describe but trust us, you need it.
Negima – Thigh, Yuzu, Spring Onion ($5.00)
The thigh was another winner. Nice and tender, the yuzu added a nice citrus touch to each bite. If you want one of the white meat options, we’d recommend this over the breast.
Yotsumi – Breast, Miso, Sake ($5.00)
The breast was tasty, but the meat was drier than the other options. We like the fattier cuts in yakitori so this will come down to preference.
Tsukune – Meatball, Tare, Cured Yolk ($6.00)
The tsukune is one of the highlights on the menu. The chicken meatballs were so tender and beautifully charred. The tare marinade gave them a slightly sharp flavour and the presence of cured yolk to dip each bite into was much appreciated. We’ve only encountered plain yolk in Japan but this in fact is one of the ways that many of the top yakitori places in Japan do the yolk. It’s delicious.
Tebasaki – Wing, Shichimi, Mirin ($5.00)
Grilled chicken wings are never a bad choice, and the mirin added a nice sweetness.
Butterflied Jurassic Quail, Soy, Honey, Lime ($17.00)
Not yakitori, but one look at this thing in real life and you’ll realise why it’s called a Jurassic quail – it’s way bigger than your usual quail. As to be expected with quail it’s fiddly but the rewards for the charred on the outside, succulent on the inside meat are worth it. The dipping sauce is a good addition but you’d be happy eating this on its own.
Mrs Liston’s BBQ Pork Spare Ribs
These pork rib’s were a special not normally on the menu. They pop up every now and then and are marinated in Mrs Liston’s (Adam’s wife) special Chinese marinade. Delicious and well worth getting if you’re lucky enough notice them on offer when you’re there.
The only yakitori option we didn’t try on the menu was the torikawa (skin, lemon, sea salt), simply because we forgot to order it and didn’t realise until after the meal.
Given the standard of food we’ve eaten at Northern Light over the past 18 months, we we confident that Liston would come up with the goods and we’re happy to say that Northern Light Yakitori Bar delivers. The menu isn’t purely yakitori focused and some of the old favourites remain (I can confirm one of my favourite desserts in Melbourne, the Broken Ice Cream sandwich is still there) but if it’s grilled chicken skewers that are as authentic as what you’ll find in Japan you’re now sorted. Who knows, if Melbourne responds well to the concept, we might even see dishes like nankotsu (chicken cartilage) and toriwasa (chicken sashimi) on the menu one day.
Northern Light Yakitori Bar
102 Smith Street
Tue – Wed: 5:00pm to late
Thu – Sun: 12:00pm to late