The word on the street, and also from higher-up, was that this unpretentious eatery could pull some mean punches. A fair bit of time has elapsed since I got socked in the right places,so I entered Ken Yakitori Bar ,sat next to the sizzle and placed the first order which was courtesy a tip-off by NZ Herald. Fried squid tentacles is a dish whose nomenclature can evoke visions of protean thrills. Instead of a rather unreasonably imagined golden tangle of sucker-studded projections,what I got was a rather meek-looking mass of fried stalks. They managed to retain some of that delicately pleasant essence of squid, but the chef couldn’t make these tentacles grasp either a vibrant crunchiness or soulful succulence. Encouraged by hot sake ($6 for a small beaker),I finished that rather generous calorie-packed starter.
But Pork-wrapped Prawn skewers quickly encapsulated why this joint has made a name for itself.If you eat it by tactless munches,its effect is muddled up, but if you softly let it explore your mouth, the wasabi-mayo unspools its gently savoury spectrum of delights leaving behind the tender grilled deliciousness of prawns that tango with the well-matched smoky accents of bacon.
Ambience on early evenings, in this snugly spaced room, is often dialled up by a well-fuelled buzz-hum-chatter of multi-ethnic patrons filling up the place. Polished rough-hewn wood forms and wraps around all the restaurant’s surfaces sporadically inscribed with Japanese alphabets and motifs.On one side, the counter-side seats face the grill where the chef handles various yakitori-style offerings ,the other half behind the counter is occupied by shelves containing a reasonably eclectic range of alcohol.
Here,not all skewers are created equal- this was demonstrated by the speared scallops- texturally they may pass muster, but the teriyaki sauce they are doused in, effectively drowned any original flavour that these small specimens might have ensconced. This serious miscalculation was echoed in another dish- Grilled Rice Ball -which I wouldn’t have ordered had I correctly remembered an actual recommendation for skewered sticky rice. At $3 per sample, the former’s quality unwittingly falls below its financial value. Its semi-crisp shell of caramelized paddy-coat holds a core of ordinary soft rice all of which holds no persuasion whatsoever, moreover the pickled plums are feeble associates and I wouldn’t even have this dish free the next time.
One of the ladies behind the counter,even while cutting squid, would look up as the customers entered and she’d utter a welcoming “Irashaimase”,backing it up with a smile.But these positives are done too randomly.
Service was prompt and agreeably solicitous in the former half of my meal, but as the crowd thinned out later, vigilant concern paradoxically diminished -it came to the point where the waitress would walk past without even bothering to stop by and enquire.
But like a nose-diving Kamikaze plane that suddenly pulls off an upswing,the next two dishes staged damage control. Fried Crispy Chicken Skin first tasted of KFC, but then slowly drove home the point that life is not all about pleasures of the flesh.In fact, this is the kind of skin-deep beauty that I condone- wavy discs, crunchy and chewy with equal harmony,gradually dissolving into clouds of pleasant nothingness,precisely flavoured with ajinomoto and inherent whispers of salt.Caveat- it has a short shelf-life,in its final pieces I was detecting everything that can go wrong with this dish but by then a favourable opinion had already crystallized. Its completely unholy unwholesome fried fattiness meant that I was lusting for a palate-cleanser,a grapefruit nestling on the periphery of the same plate made ample sense- I bit into its shamelessly tart flesh which rather severely did the job. Next- Grilled Skewer of Chicken Thigh first evoked the flavours of strong smoky chargrilled kababs that are produced in working-class Sub-Continental Muslim hotels,but its texture emerged as the unmistakeable victor- of the 4 enjoyable mouthfuls which are slick with caramelized sauce, the second one was truly exceptional for the the way it ran the spectrum through spunky tender evanescent as the soft fibrils came apart and slid-zipped across the palate into the gullet.
Two more dishes higher up on the pleasure curve, and this meal would have ascended like the climax of the great Daibosatsu-toge. But I’d had enough( in a good way) and reserved further menu explorations for another visit. What’s more,even the bill and glass of water I ultimately requested, continued to give satisfaction.Attempting to further undercut the taste of my oil-laced meal, I for the first time in a NZ restaurant, drank a glass of water bottoms-up. The bill,at 6 items plus hot sake, was $39- which can be less than the cost of a single main course at a nearby 5 star establishment. If you carefully pick your choices,while reconciling to the limitations of the place, K-Road can provide some perfectly legitimate pleasures.
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