Just because something is easy, doesn't make it less worthy or satisfying. Low-hanging fruit, one-pot meals, Havvies and of course, Sunday mornings. If it achieves a goal, that's all that really matters. Because in the end it's a delicate balance of time and effort with achievement and satisfaction; and more of one doesn't necessarily mean more of another.
I wouldn’t advise rocking up to Iiza on a Saturday night without a booking, although the head waiter was very, very accommodative to our unbooked table of two. Any necessary wait can be easily wiled away window shopping nearby, or with a quick schooner at the ever-lively Coopers Hotel (Fat Yak on tap, thanks).
The outdoor footpath seating isn’t ideal for windy, wintery nights although the heaters do their jobs commendably this slightly chilly evening, as too the warm smiles of the kimono-clad waitresses. Perhaps a characteristic of the izakaya style dining, Iiza's menu has categories mostly by cooking style, other than the starters – which seem a good place to commence.
This day’s combination of salmon, tuna and kingfish in the sashimi appetiser are faultless. Served in an earthenware bowl full of ice chips, the vibrant and thickly sliced fish are fresh of flavour and texture; the serving just enough to whet two appetites.
Delightfully, the yakitori come in three varieties on the starters menu: a breast fillet version with a puzzling cheese and anchovy basil sauce, a chicken ball with sansho pepper, and the most traditional – thigh fillet with a sweet soy sauce. We opted for the traditional route and were justly rewarded with hot and juicy skewers slathered with the smilingly sweet sauce and just a hint of grill flavour. I’m sure I could be content to just eat yakitori with rice as a meal, but they say variety is the spice of life.
When is a salad not your typical healthy, potentially bland and boring salad? When you add soft shell crab. This salad in disguise is a winner – lightly battered soft shelled crabs climb the pile of green papaya and mixed lettuce leaves, steeping in a sweet, tartly spicy dressing. It's quite a harmonius combination with a distinct Asian influence, but not any cuisine in particular. The salad is topped off with shredded scallions and thin slivers of roasted red capsicum that add a dazzling visual as well as textural flavour.
The tempura arrives as an impressive assortment with uncommon, but lovely, zucchini flowers and enoki mushrooms in the mix, along with prawns, eggplant, sweet potato, beans and capsicum. It's served with tempura dipping sauce - a sweet soy mixture - but also a lemon quarter and a green tea salt (which in hindsight was probably meant for sprinkling rather than dipping into, as it was way too salty doing the lattter). Everything is cooked with a delicate touch with the slightly crunchy batter leaving behind very little oil at all.
The pork belly doesn’t look too large a portion, but it certainly packs a substantial, filling punch. Braised overnight in a traditional soy-based stock, according to the menu, it’s devastatingly rich – as if the fat had melted down and resumed position within the meat and every other part. Except there are still layers of melty fat between the skin and flesh.
The flavour is of soy and mostly saccharine, so the presence of mustard is a particularly welcome, as too steamed rice to stop the pork belly from sliding right down my throat and directly to my belly. With more of the roasted capsicum slivers on top, this is certainly a great, hearty winter's night dish.
It's probably not a lingering spot at the outdoor tables - getting a bit chilly and seeing other hungry, waiting unbooked groups. For an impromptu dinner, it was simple and satisfying - and isn't that how life should be?