iTō Restaurant | One of the Best of 2023

Fine Dining Izakaya

What do iTō, Nour, Nobu, Cho Cho San, Aalia and Cuckoo Callay all have in common? iTō is the restaurant on the old Cuckoo Callay site, the restaurant comes from the team who brought us Aalia and one of my fave restaurants, Nour, and the Head Chef, Erik Shane Ortolani, comes from Nobu and Cho Cho San with Italian heritage and pro-training in Milan before moving to Australia to embrace his passion – Japanese food (Hint: Japan would have been better haha).

But if that little bio isn’t enough to get you iTō I don’t know what is!

And as much as I hate to say the word “fusion,” such a dirty word, this is a fusion of sorts, Japanese with a sprinkle of Italian, and it works so well I had to dust off the old blog for a bit of love for such an epic lunch. I headed in about a week ago with one of my life long besties Steve Proctor, who is a Chef and a passionate food lover, which speaks to a perfect dining partner.

Special thanks to Candid Comms PR who invited me to dine.

The Venue

Found on Surry Hills’ leafy Crown Street on the other side of the little garden park from the Surry Hills library and opposite The Clock Hotel sits iTō. We picked an auspicious time to visit, a day or two after the fantastic 2-story Christmas tree had been installed in the park, we dined on the 2nd story so we looked over the tree, it was amazing but because I occasionally have questionable intelligence I didn’t take any pics of the tree lol.

The 85-seater 2-storey venue has replaced Cuckoo Callay’s former residence in what looks like a fully renovated terrace. Top Aussie architect Matt Darwon (Firedoor, Pony) has transformed the space with Tasmanian Blackwood furniture, clean lines and pops of bold colours with a spattering of enough items to give you a Japanese feel. The upstairs would be considered minimalist and the downstairs not so much due to it’s limited space. There is however some fantastic seating outdoors downstairs and a very small amount upstairs.

I personally wouldn’t call it an Izakaya – it is not too intimate, and it’s too big, if it was just the downstairs maybe. I have sat in Izakayas in the snow in Japan and they usually didn’t seat more than 10-20 pax and they only have a small amount of food to choose from and not this level of fine dining choices.

The People

We had interactions with four people, 1) a good looking bar guy who when I got the shot of him behind the bar, replied with “did you get what you want,” me being behaved replied with “yes, thank you.” Haha

2) The manager (sorry no idea his name) who seated us at one table and read my expression and moved us to the other end of the restaurant to a slightly larger table with no one around. He literally read my needs without having to talk, that is service!! Also, I cannot thank him enough, we went over our media budget and I went to pay, he said it would not be necessary – you have no idea how much that meant, we recently lost a few clients to the economy and I was strapped and this had me beaming.

…Waitress of the Year…

3) And probably our favourite was our waitress, she was from some South American country (if I remembered correctly) trying to know Japanese/Italian food and being peppered with questions from two serious foodies. Things like “does that have Szechuan spice in it?” Rather than say I don’t know she had a little book with everything written in it and if not she went to the kitchen and then wrote it in her book, Steve ignored every other waiter, she was the queen of knowledge and I do believe Steve offered her a job on the spot – his restaurant is in Ingleside, no chance for her to get there but he is still raving about her and thanked her profusely. If we had stayed any longer I think he would have proposed haha

And 4) The maestro himself, Erik Shane Ortolani, the Chef (pictured down the bottom with Steve and myself). He came out and answered every question when we had finished. He was so patient, Steve was curious about a lot of things and he answered them all. I was curious about one thing – did the ravioli have any Szechuan because Szechuan makes my tongue go numb and it did when eating the ravioli. It contained Sansho peppers, which are an unripe Szechuan pepper. Sansho is used traditionally in Japanese cuisine for its lemon myrtle-like freshness citrus-like Sichuan peppery bite. Wonderful!

What we ordered…

Hiramasa kingfish, white soy, cucumber 27

Hokkaido scallop, green apple, milk 25

Yellowfin tuna, bonito bread, bottarga (2 pcs) 18

Spring tempura, citrus dashi emulsion 22

Tako-tori skewer, nduja 15ea

Spanner crab chawanmushi, asparagus, ikura 31

Agebitashi eggplant, tomato kaeshi, sesame 25

Duck ravioli, brown butter, ponzu, sansho 32

Hibachi wagyu, shoyu jus, black garlic 68

Charred Roman beans, barley miso, furikake 17

1x Drink – SAKURA CLUB- Wyborowa Vodka, Nigori Umeshu, Plum, Raspberry 24

The Food

The food is what I would consider perfect. Some dishes aren’t to my taste but they are still perfectly made and created. If I was to pick one as my favourite – it goes to the Agebitashi Eggplant, the single best eggplant I have ever eaten, it needs to be framed on the wall haha. I do believe Steve’s favourite was either the Tuna or the Scallop.

All the dishes were wonderfully small and perfect for sharing, it is probably why we ordered so many. The only one I had issue with fitting in was the Wagyu, I was already so full.

The “blended cooking styles,” (see fusion) were most evident in the Tuna, the use of bottarga is more Mediterranean and easily replacing the Japanese karasumi. Bottarga is a delicacy of salted, cured fish roe pouch as is the karasumi. Also evident in the ravioli (see pasta :)), also the use of ponzu in the Italian dish, instead of lemons or preserved lemons and the same with sansho (my tongue number.)

It should also be mentioned I had the only drink, the Sakura Club – the best cocktail of 2024 that I have drank in Australia – the best of the year was from Vietnam.

In Conclusion

Fun Fact: Why is it called iTō? The izakaya is named after Ito Mancio, the Japanese Jesuit who travelled to Rome as part of a diplomatic mission in the 1580s. Even the name is fusion haha

Itō was a masterpiece, it is definitely up there as my possible venue of the year. The people, the food and the company made it so good as to deserve a blog article on it, something I do not do so much anymore.

The only negative for the general public I would consider is the price, Steve and I ordered an unrealistic amount which is what is messing with my pricing issue, but we didn’t drink, our bill came to $330- for 2 for lunch – with a normal order and not trying to sample everything it would be about $100 a head which is decent.

The bonus point goes to our superb waitress, thank you.

SCORE BREAKDOWN: 3/3 food, 2/2 service, 1/1 drinks, 1/1 venue & ambience, 0/1 cost, 1/1 toilets & 1/1 bonus

*** Spooning Australia was invited, with thanks, by the venue ***

All photographs are Copyrighted by Spooning Australia and Jason King – please feel free to share with full credit provided.

iTo Deets



(02) 8399 3679





100% Necessary


Med – High

Opening Hours

Thursday 12–2:30 pm, 5:30–9 pm

Friday 12–2:30 pm, 5:30–10 pm

Saturday 12–2:30 pm, 5:30–10 pm

Sunday 12–2:30 pm, 5:30–9 pm

Monday 5:30–9 pm

Tuesday 5:30–9 pm

Wednesday 12–2:30 pm, 5:30–9 pm

Vegetarian Options


Local Delivery

Gluten-Free Options

Kid Friendly
If they are very quiet haha

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