The shop card I have for Gyōssantei – a decent little izakaya located opposite the entrance to Shibuya’s Bunkamura – has a date scrawled on it: 4/10/09/. I’m lazy about posting izakaya visits…
Topline judgment? Well worth a visit, but with a few caveats.
They serve a fantastic line in Kyushu cuisine, the majority of which focuses on that of Miyazaki prefecture; which of course tends to mean jidori, or naturally reared chicken. Which isn't to say there’s not more than just chicken, whether charcoal-grilled or deep-fried and smothered in mayo - namban style, to recommend Gyōssantei’s pantry.
For instance, the abura miso salad was exemplary. Dynamic, in that delightfully “in your face” way that izakaya sometimes get so right. This “salad,” served in a wooden masu (a nice touch), consisted of chunky cuts of celery, carrot, cucumber, daikon and leaves accompanied by a miso and berry-oil paste.
On the other hand, the unashamedly chewy otoshi of snails succeeded in offending. A local (to Miyazaki) beer, Hideji, went some way to making amends, being light, crisp and faintly hoppy. So too the various grilled fish heads.
The sashimi, in this instance a moriawase of maguro, kasago and saba, was excellent, just way too dainty.
If grilled fish is really your thing (it should be) then the yaki kamasu, a somewhat infrequently served, thoroughly delicious long-snouted species, will put a smile on your face.
As will the Yukkuri – a potent shōchū which to be honest sent my head spinning…
When feeling tipsy, some meat helps. I looked no further than the buta kakuni with shiraga negi. The three succulent, weighty pieces were not at all oily and only lightly doused in juices, so as to retain some of that delightful crumbly texture that good braised pork offers.
A wonderful oshinko moriawase – cucumber, carrots, ginger, daikon, takuan, kombu and umeboshi – provided a fantastic array of strong flavours, too. This offset the overpowering sweetness of the Jūyondai; a sake I’ve not bothered to revisit since.
Food aside, the interior is tastefully appointed. Although not large, the floor space is put to good use. You don’t feel crowded. Avocado green walls framed with dark wood and dimly lit to boot create a suitably intimate, “Japanese” atmosphere. The hanging noren before the kitchen and the cute little counter near the entrance, upon which are jars of beans, pickles and freshly prepared recommendations of the day, reinforces this ambience. This considered approach to the interior design benefits from the application of seasonal sprigs and dried shishito (peppers) for chopstick rests.
What of the aforementioned caveats?
Despite the generally excellent service from the floor staff, the mama-san was pushy. Extremely so. Probably well intentioned – she is both proud of her menu and well informed regarding the foods and ingredients there in – she manages, nonetheless, to raise hackles. On each of the handful of occasions I’ve visited her establishment, she was hassling us from the moment we were seated. “What will you drink?” “What will you eat?” “How many of those?” “Why not try another of these and one of those to go with it?”
The approach was utterly out of kilter with the ambience of the place and the demure service provided by other – admittedly more youthful – ladies that wait the tables. This mama seemed more suited to some grubby snack bar. No one enjoys a hard sell at dinner time.
Fancy another sweeping generalization? Here it is – despite good food, decent drinks and pleasant surroundings, I always come away thinking it’s just a little over priced.