5 March 2024

Make Yakitori 38 on East Row your stay-drink-place

| Michelle Taylor
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a bar

Up at the bar. Photo: Kazuri Photography

Canberra’s newest shining star has to be Izakaya-styled Yakitori 38. Taking inspiration from Izakay, which means ‘stay-drink-place’ and from the leisurely pace of Osaka’s bars, this Japanese tapas bar provides a relaxed haven for friends and families to gather around tables laden with delectable share-plates, Japanese wines and signature cocktails.

Executive Chef Guno comes with a Michelin-star pedigree; he blends and bends his ingredients with skill and practised ease.

“My first job when I was a student in Korea in 1999 was at a Chinese/Japanese/Korean fusion restaurant,” he tells us.

“I enjoyed the job, so I enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu cooking school in London after graduating. Marco Pierre White headed up the Michelin-star restaurant I worked at after completing my studies. I worked there for four years.”

I made impressed sounds at the name of the chef but could not remember who he was at that moment. Google Image that name and his face is instantly recognisable as a legendary chef and star of both Hell’s Kitchen and MasterChef!


Grilled mushrooms release a burst of gorgeous mushroom butter and Parmigiano Reggiano as you bite into them. Photo: Kazuri Photography

After several more years of fine dining experience in London, Guno worked in Dubai for a few years to challenge and hone his skill set. A move to Australia came when Goku and his wife began their family. They bypassed Sydney and came straight to a job in Akiba in Canberra.

“After years of fine dining and French cuisine, walking into Akiba reminded me of my first job doing Asian fusion,” Goku says. “I decided that once I opened my own restaurant, I would focus on a fusion of Asian and French-style cuisine, and I opened this,” he finishes simply.

We sit close to Yakitori’s entrance, the windows looking out to Canberra’s city centre, and peruse our menus.

The ‘skewer’ section features an abundance of traditional Yakitori staples, whereas the snacks menu is where Guno flirts with fusion flavours. Think cream croquette with Japanese tartare, chicken Nanban with angel hair potato and lotus chips topped with Parmigiano Reggiano.


The lotus chips are a must-have! Photo: Kazuri Photography

Soon, our table groans under a bounty of share plates and beverages. Little plates piled with skewers of grilled meat and flame-kissed vegetables, our cocktail glasses beaded with condensation. We feast.

Guno has described the octopus munchkins as savoury octopus doughnuts. Golden crunch gives way to tender and juicy with delicate morsels of octopus enclosed. Topped with mayo, sauce and delicate wisps of tuna flakes, rather than bonito flakes, these are my favourite deep-fried snacks here.

I take that back; it is a tie. The lotus chips! Thinly shaved, lightly battered in potato starch, fried until crispy, then drizzled with house-made sticky sweet and salty soy sauce topped with Parmigiano Reggiano. Their delightful crunch and earthy taste shine through the toppings; these chips reign supreme!

The blistered top of our eggplant is lush with caramelised miso butter. Its umami sweet/salt deliciousness penetrates the tender flesh beneath. There is zucchini, all charred and glossy, and grilled mushrooms that release a burst of gorgeous mushroom butter and Parmigiano Reggiano as you bite into them.

Try the Nanban chicken, an effortlessly classy comfort food. Karaage chicken slathered with sweet/sour Nanban sauce and Japanese egg tartare, then given a crispy finish of angel hair potato strands.

We tuck into skewers from all portions of the chicken. The wing skewers and chicken thigh skewers with spring onion are traditionally yakitori-grilled over charcoal. Guno allows the natural flavours from the char and kiss of the flame to shine in these skewers. Every mouthful is perfection.

We enjoy our way through so many types of skewers: chicken gizzard and chicken cartilage, particularly enjoying the chicken hearts, glazed, sweet and sticky.

Guno respects his produce. Nothing goes to waste. He creates the most fragrant, fluffy meatballs from chicken scraps and serves it with hot-spring or onzen egg that is so delicate that one stroke of the meatball turns it into a dipping sauce.

I am in conniptions of delight as I bite into the onigiri-rice ball. Umami with mushroom soy butter and nori flakes, both the texture and flavour, have me returning to this dish repeatedly.

Oh, and we had cocktails!

My Breakfast with Tsunade cocktail is Christmas punch’s grown-up, sophisticated sister. It’s underpinned by rich, plummy depths and balanced with English breakfast tea and the hum of rum.

drinks on a table

Drinks while watching the world go by. Photo: Kazuri Photography

Ueno Fizz is all floral and citrus notes with a sour balance from rhubarb and sake.

We are too full to order dessert. Next time!

Have you enjoyed Yakitori 38 yet?

Yakitori 38 is located at Shop 19/21 East Row in the Sydney Building. It is open from 5 pm until late Tuesday to Saturday. Follow Yakitori 38 on Facebook and Instagram, and check out all the menus here.

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