'Eat, Drink and Sing’
The literal translation of Yama Zaru Izakaya, ‘mountain monkey stay-drink-place’, only adds more to the mystique of this offbeat Japanese restaurant and karaoke rooms. The, perhaps more accurately named, Monkey Bar self identifies as a Japanese-style pub, specialist karaoke bar and restaurant. The three cheeky monkeys adorning the place gives suitable irreverence to a venue that combines some of the best and freshest traditional Japanese cuisine with the modernity of digital karaoke rooms, all with Asahi on tap.
Cherry blossoms and cheeky monkeys are not your usual décor for a Far Northern restaurant, but for Yama Zaru Izakaya, the cherry blossoms against the backdrop of Japanese murals and vibrant teal welcome you into another world, right here in Cairns city.
The venue is the creation of owner Adam Craven-Sands, a familiar face to many locals, having worked front-of-house in many well known Cairns restaurants over the years. A self confessed Japan-o-holic, his love and fascination with the country started in hospitality here in FNQ. Wanting to be able to interact with his customers, he started learning Japanese. Not only did he fall in love with their language, but their country too, having visited Japan over 60 times to date.
Opening Yama Zaru has combined Adam’s passions for Japanese cuisine and culture with providing top notch hospitality.
“I wanted to bring a piece of Japan here for everyone to experience with me. I love building the connection and interaction with guests and Japan. To be able to combine the two here in Yama Zaru is fantastic,” says Adam.
Yama Zaru Izakaya’s doors opened in late 2022, the décor curated through Adams personal journey and immersion in Japanese culture. The venue is one of a kind, unique, boasting an authentic thatched ceiling, honeyed timber tables and booths, with walls adorned with Japanese artworks and traditional items and artefacts; in contrast there is also a constant video display featuring contemporary, traditional, and extraordinary sights and wonders of Japan. The look and feel of the restaurant has been designed to create the authentic feel of Japan with a warm and welcoming atmosphere.
The centrepiece of the restaurant is a magnificent timber sushi bar, where you can sometimes find one of Cairns’ most long standing sushi chefs, Masami (Sammy) Kawano. Sammy’s contribution to Cairns sushi is honoured in Adam’s typical tongue-in-cheek humour, incorporating the name of the former long-running local restaurant, Zaru, into the new business name.
“Zaru has been shut for some years now, but has formed part of my journey in Japanese cuisine,” Adam says. “When I decided to open, I called Sammy and asked if I could use the name in my restaurant.”
Behind the sushi bar sits the powerhouse kitchen of the restaurant under the dedicated passion of head chef Maza. Maza creates dishes from the ground up, working with Adam to source the finest ingredients, hand-making everything from the gyoza to chicken karaage.
Catering to all groups, couples and singles, the seating is designed to make you feel at ease. You can pull up a seat at the sushi bar, enjoy a chat with Sammy whilst watching the master create as you savour his sashimi and sushi delights. The entire family can relax and enjoy a delicious meal off the main menu up until 11pm every night, with gluten-free and supper options.
The menu takes a twist on traditional Japanese favourites with an emphasis on sharing; tapas style and small plates. Adam is borderline obsessive on sourcing the freshest and most authentic ingredients, something which shows through across the entire menu. Particularly worthy of mention are the marinated octopus, the smoked fish, and some of the best and freshest sashimi we have in the region. Every detail has been covered. The restaurant has many special items not found anywhere else in Cairns, all acquired from Japan via specialist importers, and even has a precious and rare supply of fresh authentic wasabi, which is certainly not to be missed.
The authentic Japanese dining experience at Yama Zaru Izakaya wouldn’t be complete without sampling at least one of the huge range of traditional sakes (Nihon Shu) and Japanese vodkas (Shochu) to complement your meal, or for a burst of Nihon-Dutch courage for your singing debut upstairs.
No true Japanese bar would be complete without karaoke, and that’s where the monkeys – Eat, Drink and Sing - come out to play. Yama Zaru’s fun trio offer encouragement in the karaoke room on the mezzanine level. You can book the room for as little as an hour before or after dinner, or make an entire evening with your mates and enjoy a full bar and supper service at your private karaoke party.
The venue hosts unique events such as wine tastings, plus weekly specials can be found on their Facebook page so you and your crew can plan a night to ‘Eat, Drink and Sing’ at Yama Zaru Izakaya.