Sake Bar Nippon II
This review is the second part of my take on this restaurant- Visits after the first one were sobering, despite the Shochu and counter-side seating. Familiarity and proximity often breed attenuation if not contempt. My full-time hostess this time was the pretty rarely glimpsed girl from the last visit- she still exuded dulcet appeal but the throb in my gaze was gone.
For first course, I ordered whole squid. Right in front of me, the chef fished out a specimen from the supplies and placed it on the grill. The length-wise body,crested by the fanned-out fin, along with a separate cut of tentacles was patiently roasted,then diced spiffily and presented with mayo and a wedge of lemon. The squid's flavour alas was undiscernible; most of the marine seductive innocence had been grilled right out of it.It was flecked by a caramelized broth which oozed notes of little consequence.
More entertaining again was the field of my vision beyond the plate,rather than the sensation on my tongue. The night for the restaurant was petering to a close, but I still got to witness interesting sights like the chef using a blow torch to scorch scallops topped with melting dollops of mayonnaise, before easing them onto a plate for the scallop mayo appetizer. Umpteen orders for "saikoro beef", were coolly executed- the orange of the carrots contrasted against the green of the beans as classic Nipppon accompaniments to a hunk of beef neatly roasted & steadily chopped into chunks.
I was most fascinated on seeing a big roasting skillet that had hemispherical hollows in which seafood-stuffed dumplings were sizzling. These are called Takoyaki- from a distance at least,they bear identical resemblance to Appo -rice cakes that are roasted in similar vessels and served in South Karnataka cuisine to great effect with chutneys. I ordered prawn Takoyaki- half a dozen of these dumplings were tucked snugly onto a compact plate, drizzled with laces of mayo-soy and finally sprinkled with bonito flakes that did a enchanted dance as steam tickled them from underneath. The interior of these steamed spheres however is semi-liquid and thus stays frustratingly extra-hot for a long time. Anyway,these mimicked a savoury custard that is softly ripe with umami- upon biting into these orbs, the mouth fills with a moist savoury fullness that eventually peaks with the crisp succulence of prawns.'Twas worth ordering.
Prawn tempura was middling- flavourful pizazz eluded it. The date pudding - a sphere straddling the texture between custard and cake- was served with ice-cream and fruits -it will make a student pass but will condemn a super-chef to flunk his last-quarter exams.
As a experience-concluding order, I asked for roasted Eel hoping that an elite rendition of this Japanese special would enable me to slip away with happy memories in the end,but I was informed that supplies of this had slid away from the kitchen's stores.But who knew- perhaps a snappy spiffy Gyoza might honourable round out the day so this became the final order. A surfeit of salt proved to be the final spoiler -the gentle equilibrium between the roasted encasing and the filling of shredded chicken-'n'-cabbage was undone by overdone seasoning. The seasons of my multifarious meal here thus assumed a sobering rise and fall of taste,notwithstanding the constant companionship of hot sake. Service - when the place has few patrons (which is not often) you may expect reasonable vigilance but when the place is packed to the gills (which is often) the two waitresses swim about busily trying to mitigate the tide of orders while attention to customers is shot to bits. Long waits can consequently ensue. But an unexpected advantage of counter-side seating is that while you wait for the waitresses ,the chef unexpectedly reaches across the partition and directly presents you the dish you were waiting for! Flavours- ajinomoto is freely relied on, and mayonnaise and soy sauce are slipped in wherever possible.
Ambience - Red spherical lanterns, plenty of inscribed Japanese alphabets, a Japanese TV channel (that nobody cares to watch, mute as it is),ethnic vocals and oriental instruments piped in through the speakers, wood which comprises the seats tables walls and even partitions betweens the booths all assiduously build a native quiddity that is persuasive in its far-away appeal.
This redolent detailed ambience and the immediacy of the counter-side seating enhance the appeal of this Izakaya's wide roster of dishes that are steadily despatched to cater to its abundant clientile.What it lacks in excellence it makes up for by way of workmanlike competence in banging out 80 different dishes listed on its menu - a refreshing alternative compared to so many conventional NZ bars in which the menu is a restricted stock set often run over by fried items. Besides, if you still want your senses to be blown away here,you can always count on the back-to-back bottoms-up of half a dozen Shochu shots.
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