Saturday, August 22, 2015

Yakitori at a Sake Brewery

The neighborhood of Fushimi (伏見), about 15 minutes away by local train from Kyoto, was known as one of the oldest sake-brewing region in the country, partly because of the proximity to the former capital and also because of the great quality of water that flow through the area, providing the perfect key ingredient for brewing. And I was here one evening not only for some sake tasting, and for a serious chicken feast at an izakaya which was actually part of the brewery.

In case you couldn't quite relate the pairing of sake with yakitori, the grilled chicken skewer, you must come and check it out yourself. Torisei restaurant (鳥せい) has been around for almost 50 years in a warehouse-converted space right next to its owner Yamamoto Honke (山本本家), a 300-year-old sake brewery now in its 11th generation. They now have a few branches in Kyoto and Osaka (the restaurant, not the brewery) but the honten, or the original shop at Fushimi, is definitely the place you should visit.

I know I came to the right place when I realized the restaurant was already packed with people eating and drinking early evening at this usually quiet neighborhood, and I was lucky to have a seat at the counter without a booking. They offer a menu with wide variety of choices, including dozens of different skewer items - mostly chicken but with pork and vegetables as well, plus some small dishes available a la carte and seasonal specialties. There's full English translation for everything so it's definitely tourist-friendly.

I was struggling with choices so I went along with the basic set course with appetizers and a few skewers plus the cup of sake first, then order more as the night progressed. Overall I would say the food was more than decent. The chicken came from Miyazaki Prefecture in Kyushu and the meat was tasty with good balance of fatty and bouncy textures. A wide variety of different parts were available, from the usual Tsukune (ground chicken with sauce) and Torinegi (chicken thighs with green onions), to the neck, wings, liver, kidney, heart, tail, and more.

My favorite piece was the one that's called Tsunagi, one of the vessels that ran from the chicken heart to liver. Each skewer contains the parts from 6-7 chickens and I love the slightly crunchy texture and just the right amount of fat inside the vessels. I am usually not a chicken tail person but the piece was fatty and delicious, grilled with a slight burnt surface giving it a good, smoky bite. And the price is ridiculously reasonable - everything costs 140 yen which in today's exchange rate amount to HKD$9 or slightly over 1 US Dollar. You can easily have a more than satisfying, sumptuous dinner here in less than US$20, sake included. Amazing deal.

Along the way I just observed what other people were having around me and ordered a few more dishes. A grill with heated ceramic plate was brought in front of me, with chicken offals and kujo leek (九条葱) - a local seasonal vegetables - was cooked with slices of garlic and a sweet tare sauce. And I finished my meal with kei-han, or chicken rice, which was one of their seasonal dishes. Rice was served in small bowl with condiments - threads of cooked eggs, chicken, nori, pickled shiitake mushroom, onions, green onions and garlic - were served in a separate lacquer dish, plus a pot containing chicken broth. To eat, just put the condiments on the rice, and pour on top the intense chicken broth.

Of course, it's also the sake I was coming here for. They basically offered their whole line of products from the brewery (bottled under the brand Shinsei 神聖) , from the basic junmai to the more delicate shumai ginjo and daiginjo, plus a few choices from nearby brewery. But the special one was the Namagenshu (生原酒), the raw, unpasteurized, undiluted brew made of 100% Yamada Nishiki rice served straight from the stainless steel barrel kept at the brewery next door. Do beware it's a bit higher in alcohol content in usual so a couple of those glasses may just knock you out completely, but I love that intensity and the fresh flavors coming from the raw sake.

On the day of my visit they also offered a seasonal brew served from the barrel, an ultra-dry junmai using a new breed of rice called Kyo no kagayaki (京の輝き, which literally means Pride of Kyoto), served in the traditional kikijoko tasting cup, except it's more a size of giant tea cup. If you are into super-dry sake, you would definitely like this - it's of SMV of +10. It was intense, crisp and clean. Even the water served at the restaurant was not to be missed - it's from the same source for which they use for their sake and considered one of the most famous in the region. Many people came to the region just to taste the water. And the sake as served in generous portion like they usually do at an izakaya - just when you think you ordered one for a sip, then boom, they poured you half the bottle in an overflowing glass. I barely made it home after two of those after feeling tipsy as I walked out the door after the chicken feast, so you have been forewarned. This place is definitely my best find for this trip - totally worth the detour.

When? July 23 2015
Where? Torisei Honten, 186 Kamiaburakake-cho, Fushimi-ku, Kyoto, Japan
鳥せい本店 京都府京都市伏見区上油掛町186
Shinsei Namagenshu - Yamamoto Honke Brewery, Kyoto
Shinsei Cho-Karakuchi Special Junmai - Yamamoto Honke Brewery, Kyoto
神聖 蔵出し純米生原酒 - 京都府 山本本家
神聖 超辛口特別純米 - 京都府 山本本家
Yamamoto Honke:

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