MELBOURNE | Yokocho is a Japanese restaurant in Melbourne that aims to capture some of the spirit of the izakayas and sushi bars of Japan. Yokocho translates as “food alleyway”, intimate spaces in Japan lined with small, busy food venues, filled with salarymen and women getting their after work yakitori, beer and Suntory highball.
The brains behind Yokoco are Kevin Pak, Benny Lui and Khoa Le, who used to spend time watching movies at Midcity Aracde when they were younger, and hand out on the balcony of what was Red Silks, and is now their own venue. It’s quite a hidden venue, up a narrow escalator at the Bourke Street end of Midcity Arcade. The bar is bright and modern, with the requisite old school hip-hop tunes playing – very Melbourne circa 2017. The balcony is where you really want to be sitting though, with surprisingly fantastic views across Bourke Street, and of some impressive architecture you don’t notice from the street.
The menu at Yokocho is expansive, and covers a wide array of Japanese favourites. The focus is on sushi, sashimi, yakitori and tempura, but there are things like karaage, katsu sandos, okonomiyaki, and udon to keep everyone happy. We were invited to check out the venue during opening week, and were treated to an assortment of dishes from the menu. All of the food we tried was tasty, with the only real disappointment being the okonomiyai – the Japanese pancake just didn’t nail the flavours or textures that we know and love from our time in Osaka, where the dish is from.
Sushi is fresh and filling, while the tempura also impresses with a light, crispy batter. The yakitori is tasty with the tsukune (chicken meatballs) particularly flavoursome and served properly with an egg yolk tare. While the absence of less common in Australia, but popular in Japan options like cartilage and heart is a disappointment, what’s there is good – thigh, breast, leek and more. There’s also yakiton in the form of pork belly which is very tender and flavoursome.
The highlight of the night for us though, was the yaki udon, stir fried with beef and vegetables. The thick noodles glide down your throat with east, and the broth is full flavoured, with an almost smoky aspect to it. Definitely the star of the night.
For drinks, there’s an assortment of cocktails and mocktails that follow the Japanese theme as well as Japanese beer, sake, wine and spirits. We tried the “Sakura Collins”, a gin and rosewater cocktail, which was refreshing and sweet, but not overly so. A matcha beer on the menu intrigued us, but we didn’t get around to trying it.
While Yokocho doesn’t exactly capture the vibe of the intimate food lined alleyways of Japan, say Omoide Yokocho for example, it gets the important things right. It’s a fun and casual place, and the food is tasty.
101/200 Bourke Street
Telephone: (03) 9663 7900
Sun – Thu: 11:00am to 10:00pm
Fri – Sat: 11:00am to 1:00am