You could easily miss Iku Yakitori if you had not learned its location from locals in the know. The only dedicated yakitori bar on the Gold Coast is hidden away behind fabric lined doors, just like a special present that comes gift wrapped. Each evening as the sun sets, small tables and chairs are placed outside the front door as a signal that the venue is open for business. Its recycled timber back entrance is lit by a blue neon light spelling Iku in Kanji.
Opened by Nerissa and Mitch McCluskey in 2017, in 2019 Iku gained a new owner, Mitch Chesterton, who cites the intrigue of the venue and romance as two of the reasons for his purchase of Iku; the place of his first date with his girlfriend.
The venue is divided into two parts: the restaurant, where only the Omakase menu is available (literally translated as ‘Leave it to the chef’, or ‘As the chef desires’) and the whisky bar at the rear of the venue where you have an additional option of ordering single dishes from the yakitori bar menu (at two skewers for $10). Both sections are atmospherically intimate and moody, making it great date night territory. In all, Mitch says, Iku’s pretty close to a Japanese yakitori bar, except it’s larger.
Although this is Mitch’s first restaurant, he’s no stranger to the industry, having worked as a chef at Michael’s Riverside and Alchemy and at Mr Hizola’s as Head Chef. At Iku, however, Mitch works as Front of House, mostly leaving the kitchen to the well-regarded Yusuke Ito.
Chef Ito is well known to Japanese food lovers on the Gold Coast. His knowledge of seafood is impeccable, many of us previously enjoying his food at Ten Japanese, Etsu and Beachside Pavilion.
Iku gives Chef Ito a chance to show both his expertise and creative flair, especially in the Omakase menu, which we sample. Following a pattern of miso soup, dip and pickles, sashimi, yakitori, noodles, main course of grilled meat or seafood, rice and a seasonal dessert, the components of the Omakase menu change weekly according to seasonal and available produce available from small local producers. This degustation-styled meal is made available for a select group of diners to try and comment on each Tuesday ‘development’ night for $50pp, then continued during the rest of the week at $70pp.
Though the Omakase varies, several factors remain the same: the atmosphere of the venue, the top quality of ingredients, and the use of the robata grill where seafood and meat sizzle and smoke over Japanese Binchotan charcoal. Talk about food allergies and preferences when you book, as the team are keen to accommodate difference where possible.
When we visit, our first course comprises a few pieces of fresh cobia from Rocky Point Aquaculture as sashimi with mandarin sauce, squid ink and wasabi, accompanied by a sensational yuzu, asparagus and crab soup that’s to die for. One of the ‘add ons’ we try at this stage is Tsukemono, the Wagyu of fish – fatty tuna belly, a delicacy flown in from Japan that I decide is definitely an acquired taste.
Next comes assorted yakitori. While traditional yakitori bars mostly focus on skewered chicken (including thigh, meatball, tenderloin, oyster, heart, skin and wing), Iku’s menu does not stop there, including a selection of ‘Not Chicken’ comprising both meat and vegetables. We enjoy chicken tenderloins and asparagus as our yakitori.
Then Black Angus beef karaage arrives with a Prawn poke style rice, a delicious tummy filler for those with a large appetite.
Fortunately, we’re taking it slow, because our Confit salmon in squid ink is a ripper. Falling apart at the touch of a fork it’s perfectly cooked and lusciously moist; a dish I’d return to the restaurant to eat again and again. It’s accompanied by a bowl of Scallop Udon noodle salad.
Another ‘add on’ here could be the 120g 9+ marble score Kobe eye fillet (the very best available), served simply with freshly grated wasabi and sea salt. Perfection!
Dessert is a chocolate ganache with mixed berries, made with Yamasaki 12-year-old whisky. Scrumptious!
An accompanying whisky, sake or umeshu (plum wine) flight is worth a shot. For me, the whisky flight steered me in the direction of the house blend: Boulevardier, Iku’s own aged barrel whisky, the barrel in which it’s aged infused with campari and vermouth, rounding out the rough edges to give layers of flavour and a smooth finish.
Obviously, I’m a cheap date! Maybe you’re not. If so, sidle into Justin Lane behind Iku, past the blue neon sign and through the wooden door frame into the bar. On the shelf sits Hibiki 21, the best whisky in the world. Perfect for the grandest of all occasions… whatever that may be.
Iku Yakitori Bar, 1730 Gold Coast Hwy, Burleigh Heads (front entrance) or from Justin Lane (next to Lockwood Bar).
Ph: 07 5568 7300 Open: Tues – Sun 5.30pm – late