Places are often described as a “best kept secret” but when it comes to Izakaya Publico, it really is a secret – there’s no direct entry from the street. Accessing this Japanese restaurant in Brisbane’s Hotel Indigo is quite an adventure. You head through a set of 6-metre-high red doors (like the entrance to another world!), take the lift up to hotel reception, walk through a lounge/bar, and then walk down a winding flight of stairs with dramatic murals as a backdrop.
It’s cool and funky, and by the time you settle into one of the leather banquettes, you’re ready for a Japanese Slipper (cocktail) or a refreshing Asahi – both of which are on the excellent drinks list. If you think that’s a roundabout way of going to dinner, think of the poor wait staff who have to head up and down the same stairs every time someone wants a drink.
Our waiter, Ryan, maintained a careful eye over the floor and a cheerful attitude while leaping up and down the stairs many times over. (Hailing from the alpine country of Switzerland probably helped.)
In Japan, izakaya is a place where you go for casual dining and drinking – the word roughly translates as “stay-drink-place”. Some of the best ones are to be found in little side streets, requiring a sense of adventure not unlike this one. And as with the izakaya in Japan, Izakaya Publico doesn’t seem to be handicapped by being a place that you need to know about rather than stumble upon. There was no shortage of diners on the night we visited.
Word has clearly got around since the hotel opened in mid-2022. As you’ll read in our separate post on the Hotel Indigo, it’s a fun hotel decorated with bold artworks and installations created by Queensland artists. The mood carries through to the restaurant, and there’s much to look at while you’re waiting for your food – not just the artworks on the walls but also the activity in the open kitchen.
Diners can watch the chefs at work, chopping, prepping, and cooking on the warayaki grill, one of only a few such grills in Australia. Hay is piled high on the grill, which leads to spectacular flames and imparts a unique chargrilled flavour. The menu is designed to share, taking diners on a journey through both traditional and contemporary Japanese dishes, created with locally sourced produce.
Choose from raw dishes such as sashimi, oysters, and salmon tartare; fried dishes such as gyoza, and chicken wings; noodles; tempura; katsu sandos; and tacos (salmon, tuna or beef with sushi rice, in a tempura nori shell).
From the grill, there are dishes such as Wagyu beef with ponzu/yuzu koshu; salmon or free-range chicken breast with black garlic teriyaki; and scallops in the shell with umeboshi butter. There’s a generous selection of skewers, including pork belly with yuzu miso, many variations of chicken; and Mooloolaba prawn with konbu butter.
If you can’t decide on what to have, there are a couple of set menus: a “superior” set for $80 per person and a “premium” set for $135 per person, the latter with seafood and Wagyu beef.
We sampled the superior menu, which was full of enticing flavours and more than enough size-wise. It began with the inevitable bowl of edamame, peppered with a delicious house togarashi and brown butter; and kingfish usuzukuri (very thinly sliced sashimi) with jalapeño salsa and yuzu soy.
That was followed by pork gyozas with a very more-ish chilli dipping sauce; various skewers (chicken meatball; king oyster mushroom with garlic teriyaki; and pork belly with yuzu miso); and tempura vegetables (too many mushrooms – we like them but would have preferred more variety of veg, especially after the mushroom skewers). Everything was beautifully presented on the most gorgeous Japanese tableware.
We drank a bottle of Chaffey Bros 2021 ‘Lux Venit’ Rosé, a Barossa Valley treasure, made in small quantities from old-vine Grenache and Mourvedre. It was a deep pink colour, crisp and vibrant and complemented the food nicely. The extensive drinks list includes cocktails, beer, wine, Japanese whiskey and sake.
Light and bright during the day, and seriously moody at night, Izakaya Publico perfectly fits the funky hotel it is located in.
If you go:
Hotel Indigo Brisbane City Centre
27-35 Turbot Street
Brisbane Qld 4000
Tel: +61 (0)7 3237 2330
Walk-ins are accepted but bookings are recommended for groups.
Christine and Maurie dined as guests of Izakaya Publico and the Hotel Indigo. Read our separate post about the hotel and why we loved staying there.