Most people enjoy yakitori. Most people know Nakameguro’s Kushiwakamaru. If you’re the poor soul who has yet to sample its delights, you have my pity. Kushiwaka’ has been around for a while, a couple of decades at least from what I can gather, and seems to have been highly regarded all along.
Considering that Nakameguro is famous for yakitori (or so I’m told), there’s some stiff competition in the area, such as the somewhat more “upmarket” take on the genre offered at Akira. Nevertheless, Kushiwakamaru continues to draw huge crowds, resulting in long queues everyday of the week – rain or shine.
This popularity is also one of Kushiwaka’s drawbacks. It’s often extremely difficult to get in the place, especially on weekday evenings if you’re heading there after the office. You can make a reservation up until 7pm (after which your only option is to get in line with the other hopefuls milling around outside), but this then imposes a two hour limit on your visit which, if you are interested in drink just as much as kushiyaki, is a pain. Furthermore, if you arrive late you will find your reservation has been cancelled.
If you go early, i.e., at 5pm, it’s possible to grab a seat and settle in. You’d be well advised to, as you’ll enjoy your stay. Immensely. Should you end up having to queue, then at least the good people running the show have the decency to serve beer to those awaiting admittance.
Once inside, you’ll be greeted by a fairly simple interior. Lots of basic looking wooden tables, chairs and screens. U-shaped wooden counter around the kitchen, coat stands, beer posters and white strips of paper bearing the names of available dishes. The down to earth, “local” feel is half the charm, the half being the food, of course. I’ve read somewhere that the basic interior renders Kushiwaka’ less than suitable for a date. Well, perhaps it’s not the best venue for a first date, but it’s certainly more than good enough for subsequent romantic liaisons. Besides, do you really want to be dating someone that doesn’t enjoy food as good as this?
The menu, providing both Japanese and English listings, offers up a huge variety of yakitori and kushiyaki (tasty morsels, grilled on little wooden skewers), ranging from staples such as chicken liver, skin, breast and gizzard, to peppers stuffed with cheese (awesome), bacon-wrapped tomatoes (more awesome!) and even oysters when in season. Drinks are fairly plentiful, teas, sours for the ladies, some shochu and big frothy daijoki beer at ¥800. Kushiwaka’ is not, however, a place to indulge a passion for sake (sorry guys…).
The food itself is a straightforward, uncomplicated affair. Fairly large portions, fresh, succulent and shiny, almost as if it’s been sprayed with that stuff Pizza Hut cover their “pizzas” in. The simplicity of the food is its strong point. It’s easy to sample a wide selection of kushiyaki and yakitori, which all have a suitably robust home cooking look, and are quite simply very, very tasty. So much so, that you’ll find it hard to stop ordering, and indeed reordering.
The oshinko moriawase is workman-like. Crunchy, tastes okay, but nothing special. As noted earlier, the bacon wrapped tomatoes are divine, being perfectly juicy and the bacon not too salty. Be warned, when just served they can be hot, creating a napalm effect as the tomato explodes in your mouth. The liver too is excellent, melt-in-the-mouth tender, and not overcooked. The tsukune and chicken and leak are recommended, although there’s nothing exciting about them. Just simple, delicious yakitori standards.
A truly outstanding dish is the bacon-wrapped green peppers stuffed with cheese. The combination of the three is heavenly, and they look fantastic. So too with some of the “specials,” such as the wasabi chicken momo, or the plum sauce and basil topped variations. Basil-wrapped tsukune also provide a nice take on an old favourite. Mushrooms are always a good idea, and at Kushiwaka’ they come stuffed with minced chicken, tsukune-style, which makes them an even better idea than usual.
The nankotsu is good, or so I am told. Although as I can’t abide the stuff, we’ll just have take the word of my dining partners on this one. When available, the grilled oysters have always been good, of a decent size, juicy and the taste not too overpowering. I always like the ginko nuts, just nicely bitter, while the erengi, although okay, are sometimes too rubbery for my liking.
One problem that arises from all this great food is that it’s often hard to try it all. Certainly impossible in one sitting, but even on subsequent visits I find myself ordering the same wonderful dishes as always. It’s just so damned good.
The atmosphere is rather lively, a little crowded, and friendly overall. Not too noisy, you can still enjoy conversation without having to yell at your interlocutor. The service is fairly good overall. Not the best perhaps, but I’d put this down to the staff being very busy taking orders and serving plate after plate with little time for smiles or providing for your comfort at a more leisurely pace. I always get the impression that their level of friendliness increases the more you order. So for most parties, you’ll probably end up with extremely good service.
To top it all off, Kushiwakamaru is exceptional value for money, both on the food and drink fronts. You can take your fill of both, until you can take no more, for less than ¥4,000.
What are you waiting for?