If approachability is the mark of a true izakaya, then Izakaya Umakamon has it in bucketloads. Tucked opposite the Novotel Surfers Paradise and a few doors away from The Island Hotel, this tiny izakaya is located close to the heart of party central.
Seigo Hakata, former Head Chef and Manager of JFX, opened the 22-seat restaurant early in 2018 and it was soon discovered by students, local workers and travellers.
The little hole-in-the-wall izakaya with its bamboo walls, burned wooden tables and open kitchen peeking out from behind tatami flagging could easily be tucked away in a Tokyo backstreet, like so many other izakayas providing comfort for the weary worker.
At lunchtime, Umakamon is student heaven, dishing out the familiar food from home that so many seek. Those on a budget dine on specials such as the $7 and $10 karaage rice bowls and free miso soup, while local workers tuck into sets, including the signature Tonkatsu Set ($18.80) also available in beef, or the smoky Aburi salmon rice bowl special ($10).
Come evening and the izakaya role comes to the fore, the bustling crowd taking advantage of cold beer on tap and numerous choices of sake, shochu and $9 – $11 cocktails accompanying the menu.
There are lots of smaller dishes, the chef putting his own twist on some Japanese classics, giving us beloved versions of others.
“I wanted to make the dish a little bit different,” Chef Seigo says of his sensational Agedashi Tofu ($7.80), one of several vegetarian dishes clearly marked on the menu. The four large cubes of tofu are served tempura-style with crisp fried potato starch on the outside smothered in a seaweed-based teriyaki sauce. Beef tataki with ponzu sauce ($12.80) is gone in a moment, and the Mixed sashimi bowl with its assortment of seafood is a steal at $18.
Tonkatsu pork ($18.80 set) is a winner, a large crumbed fillet that’s tender and juicy on the inside, the outside deep-fried to golden crispness, accompanied by sides of deliciously creamy potato salad and cabbage salad with sesame dressing, a bowl of rice and sauces – a cracker of a set.
We’d return to try other dishes: Deep-fried eggplant with miso sauce ($8.80), Salmon carpaccio ($13.80) and Kingfish sashimi with sesame sauce ($14.80), Karaage, and the Cod roe carbonara udon ($14.80), the chef’s Italian, Japanese and Hakata combination, catching our eye.
There’s always room in our phone book for well-priced casual diners. Yes, we may sit on stools on the footpath watching the passing parade of tourists, but at Izakaya Umakamon we know the food is freshly prepared, tasty and well-priced, the beer is cold and the sake free-flowing. Be sure to book.
40-42 Hanlan St, Surfers Paradise Ph: 07 5527 6723
Open: Mon, Wed – Fri 12–2:30pm, 5:30–8.30pm; Sat-Sun 5:30–8.30pm Closed Tuesday.