Shimbashi hosts myriad izakaya, nomiya, bars and restaurants. Not only is the casual visitor spoilt for choice but also easily overwhelmed. A favourite haunt of salarymen, the sheer number of eateries and neon lit bar signs hint of culinary delight, chance encounters and, of course, the possibility of disappointment. As neither my dining partner or I are particularly familiar with the area we had, as is often the best policy, to rely on instinct in selecting our evening's establishment.
But five minutes stroll from Shimbashi station Torishin's facade appealed immediately. A well presented, thoroughly 'Japanese' style design of wood and noren (shop curtain displaying the name of the establishment) hanging before the entrance seemed to promise quality food, convivial atmosphere and possibly higher than average prices. We were not disappointed on any count.
Entering the warmly-lit, cozy interior of wooden beams, kitchen counter of polished wood and raised table seating we were greeted by a polite gaijin-friendly woman who quickly showed us to a place at the counter from which we could enjoy the shelved display of quality shochu and patron's 'keep bottles'. Coats and umbrellas were taken and carefully hung, and drink orders promptly taken with a smile.
Thanks to the lively atmosphere, the air filled with the sound of conversation and lively laughter of groups of salarymen and young couples, one soon slipped into the mood of the place and felt comfortably at ease. Although not a large space, the counter seating was not, as can all too often be the case, cramped although the table area certainly seemed to offer a more comfortable dining experience.
Browsing the limited menu it became apparent that Torishin is a Yakitori-ya (shop specializing in grilled chicken morsels on skewers) specializing in shochu. That said a small but choice selection of nihonshu (sake) is also available. Accompanied by an initial otsumami (appetizer) of dried, baby shrimp in vinegar and grated daikon (radish) with soy-sauce the smooth, dry taste of Seikyo provided the greatest thrill in terms of nihonshu. Later the Hiraizumi was somewhat uninspiring while old favourites such as Kubota were over-priced.
The Torishin-salad was a pitiful affair of lettuce, tomato, yellow pepper and chicken in a painfully mundane dressing. Why the proprietor, a Mr. Huruta Takashi, deigns attach his shops name to such a dish is beyond me. Fortunately the quality of further dishes, such as the assorted kushi plate comprising of two skewers each of chicken liver, chicken and leak, and tsukune (minced chicken) and chicken sasami (lean chicken meat) with plum sauce and seaweed, were excellent with the skewers of chicken liver being grilled to perfection being neither over- or under-cooked and thus exquisitely tender. Certainly it has been many years since I last encountered liver tasting this good.
Other highlights included lightly salted skewers of onion and shitake mushroom, and a sesame coated grilled onigiri (riceball). The menu is somewhat limited with each dish being a little too small for my taste. However, that which is on offer, salad aside, is a considered, well presented selection that encourages a second visit. Prices are somewhat higher than average although the quality of the food combined with the pleasant service and atmosphere of place go someway to justifying them. Fresh ingredients, careful cooking and a clean shop interior all add to the joy of dining at Torishin.
My only complaint other than the price and size of the dishes is that the counter does not look onto a kitchen. The kitchen is itself behind doors to the side of the counter area, with food only appearing in the counter 'kitchen' to be served. The ability to watch ones meal being cooked is always a bonus...
Still, I will no doubt be making another visit to Torishin although with so many other enticing restaurants in the area I may well be distracted...