When you get to Hotel Indigo in Brisbane, you’re presented with some impressive big red doors and instructions for how to get to the hotel’s reception, Bar 1603 and Izakaya Publico restaurant on the first floor. Once you get to the very funky hotel reception area, turn left, walk through Bar 1603 and down the stairs and you’ll find the even funkier Izakaya Publico restaurant.
As you head towards the restaurant, you may be distracted by Bar 1603 and, like me, enticed to grab a drink and enjoy this welcoming, contemporary space. This speakeasy-inspired bar was named after the year the first izakaya (a bar that also serves snacks) was said to have opened in Japan. From the bar area, you can watch the street outside through large plate glass windows from your lofty perch on the second floor and also look down into Izakaya Publico and admire its dramatic wall mural depicting a Japanese woman and an ancient war horse.
The space is very open but a clever use of seating and contemporary mural art has created a surprisingly intimate space with cosy brown leather booth seating and smaller tables for two or four. If you’re coming here as group, there is seating to accommodate this as well.
You can order a la carte but we opted for the Superior Set menu at Izakaya Publico. This designed-to-share menu presents Japanese favourites, both traditional and contemporary. Many of the dishes are cooked on a Warayaki grill that gives the food a rich and tasty char-grilled flavour.
I have to admit that I’m not usually a fan of Japanese food. I think it stems from my general dislike of fish (unless they’re swimming beside me). But after seeing some great photos and reviews, I was looking forward to trying the non-seafood options on the menu.
Being seated with a view of the open kitchen means you get dinner and a show as the chefs work their magic using the Warayaki grill’s dancing flames. The tempting smells of fresh and marinated meats and vegetables grilling held the promise of great things to come.
When the generous bowl of edamame (soybeans in the pod) with brown butter and plate of pork gyoza dumplings arrived, we settled in for an avalanche of food. This is a good time to ask your waitperson to stagger the dishes with a break between each round as ours arrived (very) rapidly.
With a procession of tsukune (chicken meatball skewers), butta barra (pork belly), eringi (king oyster mushrooms) and ebi (Mooloolaba prawns) making their way to our table, we knew there would be no room for dessert. After attempting to eat the last of the yasai (tempura vegetables) and failing dismally, we surrendered and finished the last of our wine.
I may not be a fan of Japanese cuisine, but I enjoyed most of the dishes and would recommend the set menu for both new and seasoned diners. The only disappointment was – surprisingly – the prawns. The plating looked so good it drew delighted gasps from my wife but to our surprise, the dish had very little flavour. The standout dish was the pork gyoza (dumplings) which were the best I’ve had anywhere.
I hate the term ‘hidden gem’ but tucked away on Level 2 of Hotel Indigo, Izakaya Publico is exactly that. Drop in for a drink and some of those delicious dumplings – you’ll be glad you did!
Disclosure: The writer dined as a guest of Izakaya Publico.
If you’re looking for accommodation in Brisbane, we have reviewed the Treasury Hotel, The Calile, Ovolo The Valley, W Brisbane, Capri by Fraser Brisbane, Hilton Brisbane, The Johnson, NEXT Hotel Brisbane, Sage Hotel James Street, The Westin Brisbane, Oaks Brisbane Festival Suites, Royal on the Park, Ibis Styles Elizabeth Street, Sofitel Brisbane, Crystalbrook Vincent, The Inchcolm by Ovolo, Alex Perry Hotel & Apartments, and Pullman Brisbane Airport.