The mere mention of this near legendary Monzennaka izakaya, situated not far from Orihara Shōten on Eitai Dōri, makes fish lovers and izakaya aficionados go weak at the knees. Or, perhaps, it’s the hour or so of queuing they endure in order to secure a seat that makes them so.
There’s nothing fancy about Uosan, and none of the staff - the silver-haired mama-san included - waste time with the usual niceties.
Once the front door slides open the patient line of hungry fans dutifully cross the threshold and (unless they are regulars, ancient or have a way with old ladies) are brusquely told where to sit.
If lucky, a spot on the ground floor squeezed in between the other diners at one of the three counters will be awarded. If not, they are summarily banished to one of the three upper floors, and the perils of tatami mat seating.
It’s a great business model. Open at 4pm, and have a full house and captive audience by 4:02pm.
Initially, order taking and delivery of dishes takes time to get into a groove - be patient. There’s bottled Kirin beer, Uosan branded bottles of chilled (instantly forgettable) sake, and plenty of the warm stuff being sloshed about in tall tokuri, too. You’ll need some time to take in the menu, which is posted on the walls. There are 126 individual items listed on the wall above the kitchen hatch alone!
It’s all about fish, although a few concessions to other categories are made, supplied by generations of Tsukiji fish-mongers; their family/ business names are proudly displayed upon one of the walls (as is the case at Okajōki). For variety’s sake, the plethora of fish on offer comes fried, grilled, stewed, boiled and pickled. It’s also absurdly cheap, very big, mostly fresh and pleasingly unrefined.
While you’re tucking into plate after heaped plate of sashimi - the kampachi, tai and chūtoro were fantastic - and generous portions of juicy, glistening grilled fillets and steaks it’s hard not to notice the strange atmosphere...
Hardly “cosy,” and not exactly relaxing either. It’s quiet, but in the way a museum or gallery is quiet. You don’t want to disturb the peace, and everyone around you looks so serious. I’d put half of it down to collective fear of the mama-san and her offspring, the remainder to concentration on the task at hand, which is to say consumption of more and more fish.
Either way, it’s not really the place for a party or, for that matter, a leisurely meal. Best to get your fix and head elsewhere for drinks, or something.
Uosan does provide some great people watching opportunities. Many of the patrons are regulars, and probably locals to boot. Some read while eating, others eat their fill while listening to iPods. Others still spend more time gazing wistfully at everyone else's meals, and seem to forget to order much for themselves. Conversation with strangers is out. With your dining partners, limited.
Yesterday's visit to Uosan, after a little over year, proved to far more enjoyable than the first. Same hour-long wait in the queue of expectant diners, and when the doors opened at 4pm, the place was immediately full.
This time, however, we were ushered to the second floor of this three storey izakaya. Without a doubt, the second floor is much more entertaining than the first. None of the monastic silence and strict rules on seating arrangements being enforced by fearsome matrons. Just a room filled with friendly, talkative and extremely happy patrons intent on consuming vast amounts of high quality, low price fish.
Whether it be raw, fried, grilled or battered every dish is perfection.
The highlight of meal was the lightly vinegared mackerel sashimi. Perfect on a warm summer day.
Huge (at least a litre or more) flasks of warm sake were being imbibed all around, causing inhibitions to be cast aside and more than a few of the surrounding diners proving to be not only talkative, but full of beans, too. As was this bowl.
If you've yet to visit Uosan, you don't know what you're missing.