The wabi-sabi ethos is predicated on purposefully casting aside strict aesthetic pursuits – it revels in imperfection and eschews neatness, while also celebrating impermanence and the passage of time. While one might think it’s an odd philosophy to base a hospitality endeavour around, Mr Wabi – with its graffitied walls, grungy interior and too-tasty-to-ignore menu of eats – shows that there might be some merit to the methodology. Owner Sabastian Swann has sought to create a hidden gem that celebrates simple and imperfect street food and vivid street art in equal measure, with an experiential twist geared towards facilitating good vibes and spontaneous indulgence. Sab has taken over the Burnett Lane site once home to tapas bar El Matador and given it a punchy, colour-infused makeover that still retains much of the location’s gritty inner-city edge. The team has repositioned the bar and knocked out a wall or two to make more elbow room for revelry and space for additional seats, with intimate booths, banquettes and stool seating in the laneway offering a varied selection of vantage points. Two local artists – North Nights and Notonebuttoo – have been recruited to apply their signature artistic touch to Mr Wabi’s facade and interior walls. North Nights has coated the exterior and select feature walls in an attention-grabbing calligraffiti work, while Notonebuttoo has painted vivid Tokyo streetscapes and neon-lit characters around the dining space.
Mr Wabi’s menu draws inspiration from an assortment of Asian cuisines, with a selection pieced together with flexibility in mind – quick lunches, share-style snacks and blow-out feasts are all encouraged and catered for. For ease of navigation, the menu is broken up into sections. Soups, noodles and rice dishes (think beef ho fun, pork-and-prawn wonton soup and aburi salmon rice bowls) segue into a series of small share plates like slow-cooked lamb ribs, stir-fried cauliflower, Peking duck spring rolls and crispy pork belly served with hot English mustard. Bao buns and dumplings are great to split amongst couples, while big share plates like Korean-style fried chicken, salt-and-pepper fried king prawns, crispy skin Atlantic salmon with roast potatoes and tomahawk steaks will require a crew to conquer. Mr Wabi’s cocktails take a theatrical approach to presentation, with dry ice, smoke and differently shaped vessels adding extrasensory elements to the drinking experience. The Spiked Sundae is a caramel ice-cream-based sip that comes served in a glass cone, while the Smoke & Spice – a twist on an old fashioned – comes served in a box filled with hickory smoke. Cocktail jugs will quench the thirsts of many, while a tight list of wines, beers (including Mr Wabi’s own house lager) and spirits will keep guests adequately quenched.
Mr Wabi is now open to the public. For operating hours, contact details and important links, hop on over to the Stumble Guide.