Is it a restaurant? Is it a bar? The answer is it’s probably both. I had walked past Nakano Darling in Darling Square n-number of times before a few of my colleagues decided we’d get dinner and drinks there one October night. I had never been keen on Nakano – after all, what kind of izakaya doesn’t offer yakitori? – but was willing to give it ago.
We went on a weekend evening after work, which meant that while parking was literally right next to the restaurant, it cost $8 instead of the usual $5. We shared a 300mL bottle of kizakura sake ($22) between the four of us, a can of nonalcoholic fuji apple cider each ($4), as well as a variety of nibbles. Allow me to elaborate further.
This is the largest serving of chicken karaage ($24), with which we paid an additional $2 each for mentai mayo and yu-rinchi dipping sauce. I really liked the karaage. It had a surprising tangy vinegary flavour that is nonstandard for karaage and thus I had not anticipated. This sour and delicious marinade made me want to keep on eating the chicken. The mentai mayo and yu-rinchi dipping sauces ended up being a bit superflous in my opinion. The yu-rinchi was mostly untouched, and the mentai mayo ended up being used for other dishes. The karaage stood strongly on its own flavouring.
This was the chive and egg omelette ($9.90) which was mostly nonremarkable. I liked that it was not overcooked and that the egg was still somewhat yolky, however think that it would have been better if the chives were more finely chopped so that they could be more evenly distributed throughout the dish. It had a subtle and nonmemorable flavour to it.
The corn butter ($11.50) had sweet corn in butter and cheese. I did not personally enjoy it, however I cannot speak for my colleagues. This is a dish you would commonly see at a budget Korean diner.
The stir fried wagyu ($11.50) was the biggest disappointment of the night. It had a mere 4 tiny pieces of beef for us to share, and indeed was more full of capsicum and other vegetables. Truly an unenjoyable disappointment.
The gyoza (3 rows for $24) was some of the best gyoza I have ever had. Probably the best. They came out super fresh and piping hot, and the meaty and juicy fillings stand out above any other gyoza I have had at a restaurant in recent times. We loved it so much that we ended up getting a second serving at the end of our meal.
Overall I found that the gyoza and karaage are standouts among the food, while the others were quite missable. We did ask for some mackerel and were not told that it was unavailable until we queried it about an hour later. The overall vibe of the place was very nice and authentic, with many reminders posted in our booth to drink and be loud in each other’s company.
Definitely a place to visit with a group of friends. Not a place to go by yourself or as a couple. Can recommend, and could recommend even more if they added yakitori to their offerings.
UPDATE – 03/03/2021
Nakano Darling was the restaurant that started it all for our group of intrepid intensive care foodies, and after a further 21 meals together we found ourselves back at this Darling Square izakaya. We were keen to try some of the items that we had missed out on during our last visit, as well as some new menu items and old favourites – the gyoza and chicken karaage.
Orion beer tower was $48 for 2L. Our health minded group did not have the power to finish it between the four of us.
The chives and egg omelette ($9.90) had actually completely changed from our last visit in October 2020. The omelette’s construction is now far more loose and soft, with less of a hard flat surface than before. The taste and texture of the omelette is now improved, and I actually quite enjoyed it.
The vinegar cured mackerel (shimesaba) ($11.50) – a cold dish that is heated by a torch just prior to serving, was actually pretty great. The vinegar marinade soaked well into the mackerel’s flesh, producing a sour-umami hit with each bite. I’m glad we were able to come back for this, as it had been sold out on our previous visit.
The takowasa ($5.90), a small dish of raw octopus heavily flavoured with wasabi. It was a bit of an adventurous order but actually turned out to be quite nice. The octopus was chopped into very small bits and had a really crisp texture when chewed. The flavour was good and fresh, though I can’t say much for the COVID-safety of the dish (2 of our 4 have been already received the Pfizer vaccine though, with one more scheduled to receive it the following day).
Following on from the octopus theme, the octopus karaage ($8.50) was unfortunately a bit more boring than the rest of the meal. It was just a standard dish of octopus, battered and deep fried, served with a wedge of lemon. Nothing special to see here.
The Japanese Beef Curry with croquette ($15) was nice but not really a plate amenable to sharing. The beef was cooked straight into the curry sauce, with bits of muscle, fat, and connective tissue mixed in. The option of topping (karaage, croquette, cheese, or mini veg) was a bit limiting, and we would’ve liked to have been able to order multiple toppings as add ons. Generally a good curry though, with the sauce being a standout, similar to though just slightly beaten by Manpuku’s in Kingsford.
I can definitely recommend Nakano Darling as a place to drink and eat with your friends and colleagues. 5 stars.
14 Steam Mill La, Haymarket NSW 2000
(02) 8957 4301