Sunday, 24 May 2015

Yardbird - the bits of a chicken you'd normally not eat

What are the chances, I mean seriously!  We're living in a city with over seven million inhabitants and more than 79,000 restaurants. So what were the chances of inadvertently sitting next to our dining companions from the previous week's dinner catch up? (see post here

Well, if you're talking about one of the hottest restaurants around, one so desirable, that it's almost impossible to get a table, I'd have thought pretty non existent.  Apparently not!

Yardbird is a tiny little yakitori place that SC had visited a few weeks back, while I'd been travelling OS for work.  She'd been so impressed with the place, she'd pretty much not stopped talking about it, so of course we needed to get along so I could write about it.  With a no reservations policy, you need to take your chances with Yardbird, and we'd had a couple of false starts before we eventually scored a table.

If you've not been to a yakitori restaurant before, they pretty much only serve the many different parts of a chicken, including the heart, liver, oyster, neck, skin etc.  Usually cooked over a traditional binchotan charcoal grill, Yardbird is perhaps the best example of the modern izikaya-style restaurant I'd come across.  Not surprising though, given that Yardbird is from the crew that run funky little Sunday's Grocery (see post here) and uber cool bar/restaurant Ronin.

So, we were sitting at the bar, about to order from the menu when we recognised a voice at our shoulders.  WH was waiting for BH to turn up for a celebratory dinner and as luck would have it, they scored the seats right next to us. Like I said, what are the chances!

Anyway, after we'd spent some more time catching up, we set about constructing a meal from the seriously great looking menu.  The Yardbird menu is split out into 'smaller' entree sized share plates, the yakitori menu, which included just about every part of the chicken you could imagine (and some you'd rather forget about) and some 'bigger' bites.  We ran down the list and ordered a fair bit from the yakitori and a little from the rest.

Of course we ordered a small side of edamame, sprinkled with sea salt, a staple when venturing to any Japanese restaurant.  There's not much to say about edamame, apart from the fact that the delicious little soy beans are totally addictive.

However, as addictive as they were, the were completely forgotten when the first of our dishes arrived.  The sweet corn tempura with sea salt and pepper looked amazing, little balls of sweet corn, somehow held together to make perfect little spheres and covered with a light tempura. They were a perfect way to present sweet corn, quite easy to eat, and were stunningly delicious. I'm not normally a fan of purely vegetarian style dishes, but I really loved that sweet corn.

Up next was the asparagus, with a onsen egg and nori (edible seaweed) and while it didn't look spectacular, the mix of panfried asparagus and the slow cooked egg with creamy egg yolk was intoxicating.  Mixing the whole concoction together added a little texture from the egg white, allowing the use of chopsticks to get the asparagus in our mouths.  The dish was quite salty, but balanced on a knife's edge.  Any saltier, it would have ruined the dish, but the chefs at Yardbird got the balance right and presented another memorable dish.

It was yakitori time and our first part of the chicken to devour was the 'oyster', which are the two small oyster shaped pieces of dark meat that lie on either side of a chicken's backbone.  One of the most succulent part of a chicken, the oysters were seasoned lightly with sea salt and after a squeeze of lemon were quickly devoured.  The soft flesh was incredibly tender and full flavoured, with the grilling process really enhancing the flavour.

As we were sitting at the bar, we were able to interact with the wait staff, who were super friendly in that very confident way that comes from working in one of the hottest restaurants in town.  I was intrigued by one of the team just chipping away at a block of ice, turning them into spheres, and when I asked about it, was told that they'd normally chip away forty or fifty in a night to go with their famous Japanese whisky.  Cool!

We'd been given a little container to throw our used skewers into and it got a huge workout as a rapid succession of yakitori hit the bar.  Next was the 'breast' with wasabi and soy sauce.  The breast was an obvious piece to get, but is often the least flavoursome part of a modern chicken, but the addition of the wasabi and soy sauce helped fix that.  Obviously succulent, but sweet as well.

The 'ume thigh' came served with thinly sliced shiso, which in Japanese cooking is often turned into a delicious condiment or spice that goes well with most types of meat.  The thigh was full flavoured and was provided an interesting mix of sweet and slight bitterness from the shiso.

Now, I'm usually a huge fan of chicken skin and when I have roast chicken, it's the part that I go for first (even though I know its the fattiest), so I was intrigued to see what the 'skin' with sake and sea salt would look like.  The thinly sliced skin had found it's way onto the skewers and was crispy and fatty at the same time, there was an interesting flavour that I couldn't quite place, but must have been the saki. It was good, but not my favourite dish of the night.

While yakitori is pretty much exclusively chicken 'bits', I'd spied some 'pork belly', served with ponzu and welsh onion.  I had to have it, and was pretty pleased when it came.  Hidden under a pile of thinly sliced onion, the pork belly was thin and a little crispy while still retaining that wonderful pork fat.  Served with perhaps my favourite sauce, a ponzu, the whole dish was one of my favourites!

One of the dishes that SC had most raved about from her first visit was the meatball, which was a skewer filled with grilled chicken flesh and a bowl of tare with an egg yolk.  Tare is a Japanese sauce often used with yakitori but the addition of the yolk was genius, taking an already beautiful sauce and making it even better.  After mixing the tare and yolk together, it was time to dip the meatball and take a trip to heaven.  Well, not quite.  It was a seriously good piece of very simple cooking, but I didn't love it as much as the girl did.

When going to Yardbird, practically everyone who has ever been will say 'get the KFC', or 'Korean fried cauliflower' with yuzu and chili.  It's a dish I'd had before when visiting a restaurant back in Australia, with a well known Brisbane restaurant running with the same dish.  The cauliflower was coated and then deep fried and covered with chili, to provide a crunchy, creamy and spicy hit.  Not bad, but my chili sensitive mouth had taken a beating, so I'd left the last piece to SC.

Last up was one of the specials and was not at all what I was expecting.  The duck hamburger ended up being nothing like a traditional burger and was essentially a duck meat patty presented in it's frying pan and covered with an unknown cold puree.  Try as I might, I couldn't place the very familiar tasting puree, but whatever it was, it worked nicely with the panfried duck patty.  I think I was actually a little relieved that it wasn't a traditional burger, I was pretty stuffed by the time it came along.

I can now see why Yardbird is so hard to get into, the food is sensational, the atmosphere electric and the staff wonderfully friendly and engaging.  The interesting thing about the spot is that there is no service charge, so the staff rely heavily on the generosity of diners to tip.  Does that add to the high level of engagement from the staff?  I couldn't say, but I was extremely satisfied with the service and would go back for the service alone (of course it helps that the food is glorious).

I was still a little blown away that we'd so randomly encountered our sometimes dining buddies and even more so that they were sitting right next to us at a the bar.  It was pretty cool though and added an extra dimension to our meal.

And that's the thing about Yardbird, it's the type of place that you want to tell people about, then go and share a meal with them.  Easier said than done though, the first couple of times we tried to go together, we were told there was a ninety minute wait, and that was only twenty minutes after opening.  If you hate queues and wait times like we do, then you can carefully plan and get there on opening, or if you're really lucky, you can have a drink inside and wait your turn.

Either way, get there and check it out, you won't be disappointed

The sweet corn was amazing, simple and probably my favourite 
There is a cock on this guys t-shirt.  The team were pretty darn friendly
A rare moment of change over and I managed to get a photo of spare seats!
The full bar 

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