Ito, a Japanese izakaya that is set to attract a cult following has opened on Crown Street in Surry Hills. But there’s also something a little different about Ito that sets it apart from the rest. Ito distinguishes itself from traditional izakayas by featuring a menu crafted by Italian-born head chef, Erik Ortolani (formerly Nobu and Cho Cho San), who seamlessly marries Japanese and Italian ingredients. Fittingly, the izakaya is named after Ito Mancio, a Japanese nobleman and the first official Japanese emissary to visit Italy in 1582. 

You’ll find hints of Ortolani’s cleverness in dishes such as the extraordinary good, agebitashi eggplant with tomato kaeshi and sesame; the tender hibachi wagyu, shoyu jus with black garlic. And then there’s the delicate but flavoursome mochi sorbetto. It would also be unfair not to mention the shio kombu bread roll with cultured butter that transports you straight back to Japan after your first bite (for those of you who are lucky enough to have experienced these buttery pillows of pleasure in some of Japan’s finest bakeries).  

That legendary shio kombu bread roll. Credit Jiwon Kim

“I’ve always been passionate about Japanese food, it wasn’t until I moved to Australia that I started to explore the art of Japanese flavours and techniques. Whilst my heritage is Italian, my passion is Japanese cooking. It feels natural to me to use a combination of the two as a vehicle for creating a really unique menu that is still very signature Japanese, and that’s exactly what we’ve done with Itō. Fresh seasonal produce, smart cooking, bright flavours,” says Ortolani. 

ESCA (the hospitality group that also owns Nour and Aalia) Group Bar Manager, Mark Anderson and his team have curated a menu of Japanese-inspired cocktails as well as a selection of Japanese, Italian and Australian wines. Of course, sake is also prominently featured on the drinks menu. On the subject of cocktails, yuzu enthusiasts will absolutely adore the Hiragana Highball made with Four Pillars yuzu gin, lychee, with jasmine soda.

Sake Smash and the Hiragana Highball. Credit Jiwon Kim

Located in the space previously occupied by Cuckoo Callay, the primary focus during the architectural renovation of Ito was to introduce a connection between the interior and exterior areas, as well as within the two internal levels. Renowned Australian architect Matt Darwon was responsible for bringing the Itō personality to life through the use of clean lines, custom-made Tasmanian blackwood furniture, leather seating, Japan-black stained floorboards, and vibrant colour accents. The result is a relaxed, yet lively venue that still allows guests to engage with one another in true social, izakaya fashion, without too much background noise.

The neighbourhood izakaya complementing Surry Hills’ dining scene. Credit: Jiwon Kim

Every little detail at Ito from the food and beverage menu to the architecture has been carefully considered. Ortolani and the team have done a wonderful job crafting the launch menu for Ito and it’s definitely a venue worth putting high on your ‘to visit’ list.  

  • Where: 413-415 Crown Street, Surry Hills
  • Lunch: Wednesday – Sunday, 12pm until 2.30pm (last booking)
  • Dinner: Sunday – Thursday 5:30pm until 9:00pm (last booking) Friday – Saturday 5:30pm until 9:30pm (last booking)
  • Book your table here