Gourmet Traveller

Modern izakaya

You don’t even need to lift your chopsticks off the table to know Yoko Dining is an izakaya with a difference. Owner Jonathan Barthelmess’s background is Greek-Australian. Head chef, Kitak Lee, is Korean. And those sun-drenched river and Story Bridge views? Distinctly Brisbane. But then, Yoko was never intended to be a flatpack rehash of some notional Tokyo muse. It’s something far fresher. And more fun.

Yoko sits alongside Greca, Barthelmess’s breezy ode to the Greek taverna, which opened at Howard Smith Wharves in 2019. It’s been a big couple of years for the chef-restaurateur, who also has Sydney’s Cho Cho San, The Apollo and its sister restaurant in Ginza. But it’s been smoother sailing up north this time around. “It’s such a different experience opening a second restaurant – we’ve got great relationships with suppliers now,” says Barthelmess. “And we’ve got an amazing team (which includes Ben Russell, former Aria Brisbane head chef as executive chef across Greca and Yoko). There have been a few surprises along the way, but they’ve been controlled surprises.”

Longtime collaborator designer George Livissianis is again on board. He’s created a spirited yet pared-back fit-out, paying tribute to the industrial heritage of Yoko’s former warehouse digs, while conjuring Japan with pops of canary yellow, clever lighting and subtle nods to Nippon, such as noren curtains. Upstairs is a secret vinyl lounge and plans are afoot for late-night instant ramen, Japanese hotdogs and artist collaborations.

“Yoko is an izakaya – an eating and

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