Monday, 2 May 2011

Bamboo izakaya

I had some idea of an izakaya as being a very traditional sort of Japanese pub, stolid and down-to-earth and full of venerable men kneeling on mats around battered ancient floor tables, something like a fish-and-Asahi-oriented version of the Renown before it was cleaned up and became the Gertrude. Well, was I wrong. So wildly incorrect that, ravenous, bone-chilled and aching from a day of riding bikes around Kyoto, we searched several blocks of Sanjo-dori high and low before it dawned on us that the sleek place with all the bamboo out the front must be it. 
The only seating was at a bar lined with big sake bottles, overlooking the dexterous young chefs. Delicious aromas wafted up as each plate was prepared. After my curiosity-driven sweet potato shōchū there followed lots of headily warm sake, which went down with extreme ease. Its containing jug, like a lot of the earthenware here, seemed inspired by body organs.

For a long time we were the only people there, until a few lone women drifted in one by one and seated themselves at points along the bar to chat to the staff. A handwritten English menu was unearthed for us and we pointed to about half the listings, so hard was it to resist anything. It came out in small plates for sharing, tapas-style, each one a little work of art.

The yuba was a particular revelation – fine, silken layers of tofu skin in some sort of benito broth, which was akin to eating a stack of cooked lasagne sheets, as strange as that may sound. I’ve dreamed of its ungraspably subtle taste and texture ever since.

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