It’s a bar in the style of a Japanese gastro pub, a relaxed place to enjoy a drink and add a couple of small plates. It’s in the style-of, so don’t expect tatami mats and oshibori for your hands.
Do expect to enjoy Japanese beverages like beer, sake, whisky, gin, shochu umeshu and the food to compliment it or vice versa. Sit at the bar and shoot the breeze with the bartenders, at the tables found in the modest space or in the heated indoor/outdoor area.
Co-owner Richard Hensens, describes it as a full bar with a specialty in Japanese beverages. Sake and Japanese beer abound. In fact, empty bottles embellish the ceiling.
Peruse the menu to find pub food with Japanese flavours or Japanese food prepared for casual eating. Instead of a bowl of chips you can have Japanese potato salad – smashed Binjies lightly seasoned with Kewpie mayonnaise and vegetables. Rather than beer battered fish why not try the fish nanbanzuke, fried fish with mixed vegetable marinated with rice wine vinegar, sake and mirin. For a low-fat alternative to nuts, snack on the very popular edamame – soy beans sprinkled with sakura smoked sea salt. If you’re looking for the ubiquitous pub burger try the Karaage chicken burger with cabbage slaw, Japanese style pickled cucumber, sliced tomato and Japanese mustard. To say karaage chicken is Japan’s answer to KFC would cause affront so think of it as chicken coated in seasoned flour and deep-fried with Japanese condiments.
While Bar Wa Izakaya is marketed as informal eating, this is groovy at the high end. The dimly lit space and the delicious plates to share make it another very sexy addition to Hobart’s food and bevvy establishments.
Bar Wa Izakaya is a collaboration of brothers, Richard and Julian Hensens, and colleague, Lyndon Davis. You might have seen their faces at the Republic Bar which is where Richard started his apprenticeship as a chef circa 1998. He was the head chef there for a long time and Manager for the last five years. Julian was also a chef there for about 15 years with a stint working in Melbourne kitchens during that time. The brothers met Lyndon over 15 years ago when he also worked at the Republic Bar.
Bar Wa Izakaya officially opened on the 23 June 2017. The idea behind an izakaya came from Richard.
“I have been to Japan about a dozen times, a lot of that I was travelling alone I spent nights sitting in izakayas meeting local people and I loved how the drinking and eating were so intertwined and how it was such a sociable experience.
Julian was looking for a new challenge and the brothers packed their bags for a two week intense Japanese izakaya experience, looking for as much inspiration as possible.
“We thought this was missing from the Japanese restaurants around town and, while there a few good Japanese restaurants around, there was nothing that was more casual, more sociable,” Richard said.
What we ate which was way way too much:
- Chashu pork jowl, $10, drizzled with braising sauce
- Okonomiyaki, $16, Japanese pancake with house sakura smoked pork belly, pickled ginger, shredded cabbage, garnished with Kewpie mayonnaise, house okonomiyaki sauce, shaved bonito and spring onions.
- Agedahi tofu, $8, tofu deep fried and served with mushroom, kombu dashi broth
- House-made pork gyoza (5), $9, served with soy, rice wine dipping sauce and chilli oil
- Yakitori skewers platter, $12, two each of the skewered free range chicken basted with our soy tare, Thornbury Farms pork dusted with salt and sansho pepper and the daily special cooked over charcoal
- Ocean Trout and wild Kingfish sashimi, $14, thickly cut sashimi dressed with house ponzu, lightly seared with hot sesame oil finished with ginger and chives.
Neither of the Two Girls are pork fat fans. I cut the fat of my bacon and pick the fat out of pork belly. Jowl. What were we thinking? It was succulent and delicious but we picked through the dish for meat like amateurs hiding its bulk under a napkin and swearing our waitress to secrecy. Who would commit such sacrilege? Not us.
Okonomiyaki was authentic on all fronts, ingredients, taste and presentation. This was a large plate and realistically, it could have sated one of us. This was the point we knew we were in trouble.
We gave the tofu the seal of approval. Delicate, lightly fried and with additions to enhance the flavour.
You generally can’t go wrong with gyoza and you’ll be satisfied if not astounded by the version at Bar Wa Izakaya. It’s a good snack to go with a drink rather than a main attraction.
The yakitori platter is another big meal. The special at our sitting was enoki mushrooms wrapped in ham. Everything was cooked perfectly and it was a tasty, easy to eat, traditional plate.
The sashimi pairing was beautiful – contrasting colours and some of the best fish available, perfect for eating raw.
As we fretted over unfinished plates, trying to wedge in another morsel of tofu and sliver of fish, a former Republic Bar owner and friend, leant over to us and asked if we might also enjoy the pork jowl. Hmmmm….Moments later, a waiter appeared with a plate of jowl and asked if it was for us. Was the kitchen having fun at our expense or was it a coincidence? We shooed them both away regardless.
In our world, this quantity would have worked better for three.
We loved our table attendant Laura who was full of life and humour.
Ba Wa Izakaya is very nice ladies and gentlemen. But don’t hold your breath on a walk-in, make a booking. This place will be in high demand.
Richard told us that there they are looking at doing more with the upstairs space over the coming months. They’re thinking about lounge areas with a scattering of tables and benches. We look forward to more to come from these guys.
For another post on Japanese food in Hobart and a love hate pork cut have a look at our post on Kosaten Japanese.
Find Bar Wa Izakaya at 216 Elizabeth Street Hobart (mid-town). Call them on (03) 6288 7876.
They’re on Facebook – Bar Wa Izakaya