Goryon-San is famous in Japan, so is its food. In Sydney, though, very few people have heard of Hakata-style kushiyaki – a kind of Japanese cooking where meat is marinated, skewered and grilled over charcoal. “It's kind of [like] yakitori, but in Hakata it’s not just chicken, you have everything on skewers,” says Goryon-San’s head chef Akihito Marui.
In Hakata (on the island of Kyushu, the south-westernmost of Japan’s main islands), the speciality is pork belly, either grilled on its own or thinly cut and wrapped around various mushrooms and greens. “I went to Goryon-San in Tokyo for two weeks to practise this,” says Marui. “It was a precious experience. I was taught a specialised skill.”
Like all Japanese grilled-meat styles, kushiyaki is firmly based in the genre of “drinking foods”. Marui says that means the first thing you should order is a tap beer and then a couple of skewers, maybe cabbage or enoki mushrooms wrapped in pork belly. “Hakata people will grill anything wrapped in pork belly,” he says. As the night progresses you should order Wagyu sirloins and skewers of gooey grilled mozzarella, and either a cocktail or a shochu (distilled spirit) and eventually sake.
There’s not a huge variety outside the extensive range of grilled meats and seafood, and skewers. There’s just a small selection of salads, some edamame options (truffle salt or smoked chilli), and a tonkotsu-based hotpot loaded with gyoza. “We want to make [very traditional] home-style dishes,” says Marui.
If you come in while the sun is still strong the display fridge will be empty and the grill chef will be off-shift. Instead you’ll have access to a small menu that includes three Hakata-style ramens (tonkotsu is the main one of the region there) and a couple Japanese rice bowls.
In Japan you would usually find this kind of food in tiny, dark, alley bars as old fashioned as the guys running them (there are not a lot of women cooking in izakayas). Goryon-San Sydney has kept the same open-kitchen tradition but it’s no dowdy set-up. Sure, it’s in a backstreet, but it’s modern, seductively lit and smells like deliciousness.