Aussie opens restaurant in Tokyo – The Jonathan Barthelmess interview

Our lifestyle commentator Lisa Clark talks to Jonathan Barthelmess, a hugely successful and well known restaurateur in Sydney. With already two hugely popular restaurants under his watchful eye he has now branched out to a very different but exciting market… Tokyo!

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Lisa Clark

The Apollo in Potts Point is one of my favourite Sydney restaurants; I had my 29th Birthday there and have spent many a Sunday lunch propped up against the front window with the sun on my back and a glass of Pinot in my hand.

I am so obsessed with the food that I often get my dinner takeaway from there and yell from the rooftops about how amazing it is when any friends from interstate or overseas ask me where they should be eating.

I wanted to know more about this restaurant and also the man behind it so I sat down with Jonathan Barthelmess, co-owner and head chef at The Apollo and Cho Cho San in Potts Point, to discuss his current restaurant offerings and also how he has managed to mix his love of Japanese culture with his Greek heritage for his latest restaurant offering, The Apollo Ginza, located in none other than Tokyo.

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Inside The Apollo Ginza in Tokyo. [Photo: Tom Ferguson]
Lisa Clark: Tell me a little about your latest venture, The Apollo Ginza, and how it came to fruition?

JB: The Apollo Ginza is an evolution of The Apollo brand in Sydney, in the heart of Tokyo. It came about when my business partner, Sam Christie and I, met our business partners on a research trip to New York. It started as a conversation three years ago and now that conversation has turned into a reality.

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[Photo: Tom Ferguson]
LC: Who else are you working with to turn this Tokyo dream into a reality?

JB: We are working in partnership with Mr Nakamura; we have a fantastic management team in Tokyo (and great translators!).

LC: What are the things that you love most about Tokyo?

JB: You will never see all there is to see, I don’t even know if you could scratch the surface, it’s not just a different country, more like a different planet.

LC: What are the restaurants and bars you must visit if you are traveling to Tokyo?

JB: I love Ginza Shimada, a little Izakya where there is only room for about 12 people, you have to stand to eat and the guys prepare everything in front of you. I also love the fish markets for fresh seafood and Maison for a pork katsu that’s out of this world.

LC: Where do you stay when in Tokyo?
JB: I like to stay in the Daikanyama area or Cerulean Tower Shibuya.

LC: How have you changed the original Apollo menu to reflect the Japanese culture?

JB: We use locally sourced Japanese produce that changes seasonally in Japan, it’s definitely more seasonal than Australia. We’re also showcasing Australian and Japanese beef in Tokyo, which we don’t have on the menu in Sydney.

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LC: Four years after working with George Livissianis, who did the interiors for The Apollo Potts Point, you are working with him on your Tokyo offering. What is it that you like most about his work?

JB: I love George’s take on The Apollo, it’s a sophisticated and understated look. It’s so Greek without being stereotypical Greek. I think this suits our product.

LC: You have been in the industry for 21 years, which is more than half your life – tell me about a career-defining moment?

JB: A career-defining moment was at a charity dinner called The Shared Heritage for StreetSmart Australia at Coast. It was the first time I really looked at my heritage and cooked Greek food. From there, I started moving from cooking solely Italian food and moved to cooking Mediterranean food. It really opened my eyes.

LC: What is your favourite meal on The Apollo menu?

JB: It has to be The Full Greek because it showcases all the signature dishes on the menu.

LC: If you aren’t eating at The Apollo, where else would be you go-to dinner destination?

JB: My go-to dinner destination is Sean’s Panorama or Fratelli Paradiso.

LC: Your other restaurant, Cho Cho San, has such an interesting mix of Japanese food; the menu is innovative and the cocktails are to die for. What was your motivation for bringing a Japanese restaurant (without Sushi I might add) to Macleay street, Potts Point?

JB: Yes, we don’t have sushi but we have a great raw bar menu. We wanted to bring an interpretation of the fun we had in Tokyo to Potts Point.

LC: Apart from worldwide restaurant domination what else motivates you?

JB: I love what I do. I have great passion for the industry and am always trying to make the next meal I serve, better than the last.

Bondi-based Lisa Clark has an acute appreciation for food, travel, events and photography and through this lifestyle she creates beautiful and inspiring content on her blog and Instagram @iamlisaclark.