Yet another interesting izakaya at the far end of the shōtengai leading away from the south exit of Shimo-Kitazawa station, not far from Uokisuisan, Uoshin offers plenty of fresh fish and other izakaya staples complimented by a lively atmosphere and busy service.
Whenever I’ve passed by of an evening Uoshin has been packed. Any day of the week. Its façade of simple, tall windows looking in on a faux Shōwa-era fish-market izakaya interior always seemed inviting. Deciding to give it a try, we headed there on a recent Thursday evening to be greeted at the door by a waitress in blue monpe. Entering in, I was surprised to find a small, well-appointed and practically deserted sushi-bar fitted out with a gleaming pale-wood counter and washitsu to the rear of the shop. As the waitress guided us to a table, I whispered with some urgency to my dining partner that this was not the crowded, lively looking izakaya we had just seen and imagined ourselves to be entering.
Explaining our mistake, while offering apologies for not on this particular evening being in the mood for sushi, we beat a less than hasty retreat (hard to bow and make haste at the same time). Realizing the source of our confusion, the sushi chef pointed out that this was indeed part of the izakaya, and any items from its menu could also be served here in the sushi shop. Pleasant enough as this might have been, we were not in the mood for such quiet surroundings and insisted on going next door to the izakaya proper. Still, to have a small sushi bar attached to an izakaya is an interesting concept, and no doubt helps to soak up customers when the main rooms of Uoshin are filled to capacity. Back on the street we walked further along the shop front to the main entrance and stepped into the warm, noisy interior. Shown quickly to a seat at the large U-shaped counter that surrounds a decidedly industrial-looking open kitchen, we ordered beer, large bottles of chilled Yebisu, to sip while taking in our surroundings.
Uoshin’s décor is simple; wooden floors, white plaster walls framed in dark wood, plenty of tables and chairs in small semi-private alcoves and rooms, visible through sliding glass-panelled doors, off the main dining floor which is itself dominated by the large kitchen and surrounding counter. Walls are decorated with black and white photos of fish markets and fishmongers wielding gigantic freshly caught fish – hinting at Uoshin’s connection to a Tsukiji fish wholesaler – occasional signatures from famous patrons and hand-written recommendations from the menu. Above the counter all around the periphery of the kitchen similar slips of paper display in bold characters choice dishes while the kitchen itself, a hectic jumble of stainless steel shelves, ovens, refrigerators and cooking utensils, is “decorated” with rows of hanging dried fish (himono). The counter, although large, was rather crowded and decorated with small china temple dogs.
A second round of Yebisu was accompanied by a small basket of eda-mame (salted boiled broad beans in the pod) and a large plate of sashimi, six thick succulent slices each of wonderfully fresh katsuo (bonito) and buri (yellowtail) resting on a bed of shredded daikon (radish) and shisō (perilla) leaves. Beside the sashimi little piles of wasabi, shōga (ginger), wakame (seaweed) and myōga (Japanese ginger) were arranged ready to be mixed into small dishes of shōyu (soy sauce). Both sashimi were tasty, especially when eaten with wakame, and devoid of that slightly icy “just out of the freezer” texture that so often is associated with large (water-swollen) portions.
Trying to choose a salad from the menu while being interrupted every few minutes by a waitress pushing in beside me to serve other diners at the counter (an eclectic mix of salarymen, students, dating couples, and lonely looking thirty-something office-ladies) was somewhat annoying, but considering how crowded the place was this can perhaps be overlooked. Throughout the course of the evening the service was prompt, to the point and friendly. Returning to the salad, we eventually settled on the kamaage shirasu to iwanori no sarada. This surprisingly tasty, if rather small, dish consisted of plenty of tiny white baby fish (shirasu), a variety of seaweed (iwanori), lettuce, daikon, and onion (tamanegi) topped with dried nori. Indeed, compared with the usual soggy abominations of tuna (maguro) scraps, limp lettuce and mayonnaise one often encounters in izakaya specializing in fish this salad was nothing short of marvellous.
At this point in the meal sake seemed appropriate (why eating salad always seems to herald sake I have no idea) and as such we began our investigation of the dozen or so on offer with the Kukurei and Shirakami. Both were served from the bottle before our very eyes, poured into pleasingly large glasses. My only complaint was the lack of masu and usual overflow of sake they prompt. Neither of these sake were smooth, although the Shirakami was the more drinkable of the two, but were enjoyable all the same. The Dassai, an old favourite of mine and produce of Yamaguchi prefecture, was sweeter tasting and reassuringly mellow. Unfortunately the Jōkigen, this time from Yamagata prefecture, while decidedly drier than the others was fairly tasteless.
Hungry again, and determined to try something “different”, we next had a small dish of vivid pink hamo no karage (fried sea eel) covered in a strong-tasting sauce derived from pickled plum (ume). Different certainly, but I found the flavour a little overpowering after a while and so had no option but to wash it down with a little more sake, this time the rough-tasting pale yellow Yūho and the even rougher Hidakami. These induced an unwelcome light-headedness that was only somewhat cured after gulping down a bowl of o-cha-zuke (rice in hot tea), which to my horror contained ikura (salmon roe). The intrusion of the ikura aside, this dish was actually rather good and made interesting by its unusual orange colouring. An incredibly small portion of udon (juicy wheat-flour noodles), served on a bamboo tray with a bowl of ponzu sauce containing chives and ice, failed to impress and most definitely failed to stop the room from spinning. Admitting defeat at the hands of the sake menu we took our leave.