Jiwon Kim

After closing Cuckoo Callay in Sydney’s Surry Hills just a few months ago, Esca Group will open the doors to its latest restaurant Ito on 11 October.

The former cafe has undergone a refit by Matt Darwon, who has decked the space out with leather furnishings, stained floor boards, and furniture crafted from Tasmanian blackwood, resulting in a modern atmosphere with hints to Japan.

“We’ve been a part of the loving Surry Hills dining scene for close to a decade now, and for me, that felt like the perfect time to reinvigorate this iconic Surry Hills corner,” says Ibrahim Moubadder, Co-Founder of Esca Group.

The 110-seater is serving cuisine inspired by both Japanese and Italian flavours, with Head Chef Erik Ortolani joining the team after time at Cho Cho San and Nobu.

“While my heritage is Italian, my passion is Japanese cooking,” he says. “It feels natural to me to use a combination of the two as a vehicle to create a unique menu.”

There are both a la carte and banquets available to guests, with dishes broken up into raw options, snacks, larger plates, protein-centric dishes, and sides.

Sydney rocks are teamed with sake and lemonade fruit, while scallops are flown in from Hokkaido and paired with green apple and milk.

The Italian influence is seen in a dish of yellowfin tuna with bonito bread and bottarga, as it is in the aglio e olio spaghetti with garlic shoots, togarashi, and optional spanner crab and the Wagyu mafaldine with white shimeji and miso.

Proteins cover market fish katsu with umeboshi gribiche; koji chicken with thyme, and Wagyu cooked on the hibachi, which is served with a shoyu jus and black garlic for $68.

Japanese flavours were the inspiration point for the cocktail list put together by Group Bar Manager Mark Anderson, who has also sourced plenty of sake and wines from both Japan, Italy, and Australia.

“We wanted to complement the food’s unique personality and the timelessness of the venue design,” he says.

“There’s something for everyone, from the discerning drinker looking to explore or for the local casual sipper.”

Ito is open for lunch Wednesday to Sunday and dinner seven days.