Between its retro chic décor (complete with patterned wallpaper, pineapple ornaments and Uno card table numbers), its extensive cocktail and tapas selections, and classic vinyl playing on their sound system, YaYa is the kind of place you’d expect to find on Melbourne’s iconic Chapel Street.
Yet somehow, despite its location in this picturesque and somewhat sleepy village, YaYa just seems to work, a fact that is in no small part down to the quality of the venue’s food.
For co-owner Jamie McIntyre, YaYa is not about attracting a specific type of person, but instead is about appealing to anyone who is “a lover of fine food and drink”.
“We don’t have a particular demographic that we are trying to attract or invite in,” McIntyre says.
“Just anyone who is an epicurist, a lover of good food, and who knows their cocktails well.”
As a seasoned epicurist himself, it seems only fitting that the opening of YaYa came as a result of “natural progression” in McIntyre’s life.
“I’ve been involved with the food industry for a while now,” McIntyre says.
“So opening and owning a restaurant, while it was a dream, was always sort of the next step for me anyway.”
McIntyre says he and co-owner Jodie Johnson got the inspiration for the restaurant’s name from a Rolling Stones album, “Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out” he says.
“Essentially, the term YaYa means to ‘get your fun on’.”
Staying true to the expression, fun is exactly what YaYa offers, with a variety of gourmet tapas for two, an extensive wine list, charismatic cocktails, a monthly soundtrack catering to music lovers of every generation, as well as live music every Sunday afternoon.
My visit to YaYa was certainly no exception to the “fun” rule.
While there, my dining partner and I indulged in a few dishes from the new spring menu.
My entrée consisted of crispy school prawns with smoked paprika and aioli.
The prawns tasted fresh and were cooked to perfection, while the smoked paprika gave it spice and a squirt of lemon helped to round out the flavour.
The side of aioli, though it is often a standard condiment when it comes to seafood these days, can often be of the wrong consistency, being either too thin or too gelatine-like.
YaYa’s, however, was perfectly creamy while still maintaining form.
The serving size was generous and would easily have fed two.
For my main I chose a toasted Turkish bread sandwich filled with herb-roasted pumpkin, Danish fetta, green olives and tomato pesto.
Again, it was evident that the use of fresh produce is a high priority at YaYa, with the Turkish bread tasting as if it had just been baked a few hours before (in my opinion there is nothing worse than consuming stale bread, so I was delighted when I took my first bite into this scrumptious sandwich).
The use of herb-roasted pumpkin gave the meal warmth and substance, while the creamy Danish fetta, green olives and tomato pesto added full flavour while maintaining lightness, making it the perfect dish for a summer lunch.
I washed my meal down with a Mimosa, which, between the bubbles and orange juice, was extremely refreshing.
The meal was simply yet pleasingly presented on a clean white plate complete with a MasterChef-worthy sauce swirl.
My dining partner chose the chilli spiced pork belly with fried quinoa, smoked tomato ketchup and salsa verde for his main, which was tasty and decently proportioned.
For a drink he chose a freshly squeezed apple, pineapple and orange juice, which he found to be both refreshing and a great light choice to accompany his meal.
Overall, the proportions of our dishes were large enough to leave us satisfied but not so big that we felt uncomfortably full at the end of the meal – a perfect balance.
In charge of YaYa’s tempting food is head chef Sam Axton, who has full control over the menu and describes the restaurant’s current food selection as “fresh, seasonal and tasty”.
“All of the dishes which you see on the new spring menu are my own that I have created and pieced together,” Axton says.
“The menu is seasonal, so I wanted to incorporate dishes that were representative of spring and the warmer months.
“I wanted to keep it light and fresh.”
When it comes to creating new dishes, Axton says he draws inspiration from “other chefs, reading food books and going out for dinner”.
Wherever it is that Axton draws his inspiration from, it seems to be working, as his dishes are exceptional in taste, and unique in style.
A second visit to YaYa is definitely in order.
YaYa also boasts an impressive tapas and cocktail selection.