At Mono-XO, tunes such as I Was Made For Lovin’ You crank on the stereo (Kiss is owner Joe Jones’s favourite band) and artworks on the wall feature hallucinatory Jurassic Park sunsets and pixelated temples. And the whole room is washed in a wild, neon-lavender glow. But despite the soundtrack and bonkers fit-out, it’s a minimalist room with a menu to match.
In the kitchen, over a charcoal grill measuring 60 centimetres by 30 centimetres, co-owner Sam Stafford has adopted a singular focus on Japanese kushiyaki-style cooking (essentially food grilled on skewers). But despite the Japanese references throughout, both he and Jones insist that Mono-XO is not an authentic Japanese bar and that you can’t detach a cuisine from its culture and place.
So there’s Thai fish sauce instead of Japanese, and chilli and miso are replaced with gochujang, a fermented Korean chilli paste. On one skewer is a concertina of tripe that’s been braised in a Szechuan hot-pot stock loaded with reduced, burnt onion, then glazed in palm sugar, lemongrass and fish sauce. On another, there’s transcendent salt-and-pepper tofu that’s been marinated in a combination of soy, sake, garlic, ginger and onion, then breaded with shichi-mi tōgarashi seasoning, kombu powder and potato starch (a Japanese approximation of Colonel Sanders’s secret herbs and spices). It’s served with bright-pink pepperberry mayo. The flavours across all the skewers are bold, sweet and salty.
Mono’s cocktail list reflects the Highball tradition found in bars all over Japan. Here, the highball cocktails are served over slow-frozen Navy Strength Ice Co blocks, and champion just one or two big punchy flavours in each sip. The Starcrawler pairs salt, pear eau de vie and pastis for a lightly-fruited aniseed hit. And the Hannya Mask – named after a style of Japanese demon mask – incorporates plum wine and chilli that whacks you on the tip of your tongue.
A three-glass wine list punches well above its weight. There’s also a $7 glass of mystery wine, billed only as "WHAT THE F#&K".