Pair your Japanese dishes with Sake at this Yakitori bar.
Located at a rather nondescript location near Farrer Park, JINzakaya, a yakitori and sake bar set up by the reputed Les Amis Group, promises each patron a fulfilling dining experience not only with the affordable set lunches and platters of assorted yakimono (grilled food on sticks) but with the restaurant’s lovely atmosphere.
From the outside, JINzakaya impresses with its eccentric Japanese decor – colourful Japanese monsters boldly painted on half curtains, simplistic wooden high stools and the allure of sensual mood lighting. One thing I really liked about the entire JINzakaya experience was how the well-furbished dining setting seemed to whisk me away to a nice, glowing part of Tokyo.
If one were to peek under the half-curtains, one would find that the counter setting immediately transports one to another sakura-and-sake-filled world. Much like many of the eateries in Japan, the bar seating at JINzakaya is contained in a tight but not claustrophobia-inducing space and within full view of the food connoisseurs preparing the dishes.
I adored how the snug insides of the restaurant made me feel somewhat nostalgic about an old retro movie that I’ve seen from years ago and it was nice to see how even from within the restaurant, which is separate from the bar-seating area, one could still get a clear view of the JINzakaya chefs at work.
While the restaurant is a tad bit small, it is very cozy and well-furnished down to the T where the walls are decorated in colourful collages of familiar Japanese characters like geishas and Godzilla and even the coasters, which we sneaked into our bags, have lovely retro Japanese designs.
While we are still on the topic of JINzakaya’s fantastic furnishing, here is a close-up of their overhanging lights decked out in a circle of multiple multi-coloured sake bottles. Evidently a very quirky yakitori and sake bar.
The tables are well-stocked with condiments and an adorable basket of rolls of damp hand towels. This detail made me oddly happy too as it reflected both the courteous nature of Japanese folks and the commendable sanitary habits they possess. Slightly bizarre thing to comment on but nevertheless an important element.
Before we were served our first round of sake, we were given a tray of exquisitely-designed sake cups to choose from. Needless to say I was thrilled!
And now finally on to the edibles…A big, beautiful bottle of Shichi Hon Yari Junmai Ginjo Tamasakae ($30 per carafe | $280 per bottle) was brought to our table and the refreshing, slightly tangy sake settled us in for the following feast.
Another interesting thing about this sake bar is that on their menu, each ‘carafe’ bottle of sake comes with a summarized back story, which yet again reinforces JINzakaya’s wistful vibes.
The first dish we were served was Kanpachi Carpaccio ($16) – a rather simple platter of fresh, thinly-sliced Gold-striped amberjack sitting atop a generous portion of balsamic dressing. I loved how the soft pieces of kanpachi went very nicely with the vinegary dressing, which had a heavy olive oil taste. This dish is perfect for whetting your appetite and pairs beautifully with the sake.
Next, we had a heavy-set bowl of Jin Sake Harasu ($12.80) which was very delectable. The thick fatty cuts of salmon belly atop the refreshingly flavoursome salad were perfect. The balance of textures between the crunchy lettuce and tomatoes and the soft salmon belly was magnificent. It also helped that the salad was drenched (but not overtly so) in Yuzu dressing which gave the dish the right amount of zesty flavours.
Another typical Japanese dish we had was Fresh Handmade Gyoza ($15), which was not too shabby. While I usually prefer my gyoza crispy, I could appreciate the particular way JINzakaya’s gyozas are made.
They have a doughy outer skin which had a tad bit of crispiness at some parts and the insides were stuffed with a minced pork filling robust with flavour. And just for that extra oomph, these pan-fried dumplings go nicely with the side of soya sauce.
The first main that we tried was the Kimchi Ramen ($12.80). I adored this dish to bits, mainly because of how dynamically the flavours of the different ingredients in the steamy soup worked together. The springy noodles which are brought in specially from Tokyo went beautifully with the tender pieces of chargrilled chicken thigh and crunchy, sour-y bits of Kimchi.
One other reason I loved the Kimchi Ramen is that the soup had a nice homemade essence which did not taste like the typical msg-filled instant noodles soup. For all those reasons and more, I definitely recommend this dish to any thinking of patronizing JINzakaya!
And now, featuring JINzakaya’s yakitori specialty. Mid-meal, a long plate of ‘kebabs’ was introduced to us and while for a carb-loving girl like myself, this mostly meat and vegetable-filled dish initially did not intrigue me, but I soon came around.
From right to left:
1. MBS 4 Wagyu Kushi ($9): The wagyu beef kushi was incredibly fatty, well-seasoned, generously-peppered and just very flavourful overall. While it may be one of the most pricey Yakitori picks, I think it is worth it to simply spoil yourself and try it with no regrets there.
2. Gyutan ($9.50): Having never tried strange parts like the tongue of an ox before, this dish stood out for me. The meat was chewy and much like the Wagyu Kushi, it was very well-marinated.
3. Torikawa ($2.50): And here, for those wondering if the Yakitori options all range from $9 onwards, the Torikawa or Chicken Skin is rather affordable and something I would definitely pick on an ordinary budget. The chicken skin was crispy, fatty and very savoury.
4. Tomato ($2.50): The name for this Yakitori selection is rather hilariously frank. IWhile it is simply tomato, there is a crunchy layer of bacon wrapped around it whose saltiness helped to balance out the juicy sweet tomato-y center.
5. Hotate ($5.50): Much like the Tomato, the Hotate dish was essentially scallops wrapped in bacon. The scallops were soft and springy and funnily enough, the fishy taste of the scallops were nicely complimented by the pork flavour of the bacon.
6.Uzura Tamago ($2.50): If it’s not apparent by now, the JINzakaya chefs love wrapping different foods in bacon and quail eggs were not immune either. I loved how the soft eggy inside was nicely balanced out by the brittle, salted outer bacon layer.
7. Butabara ($2.50): The light pink slices of skewered pork belly were surprisingly tender and just a little tough around the edges. The subtle saltiness of the meat was quite delightful.
8. Enoki ($2.50): I was not a particular fan of this variation of bacon wrap. While the golden Enoki mushrooms were stringy, soft and made for a nice moist centre that contrasted the crispy bacon, beyond the textures, I could not fully appreciate the dish as I am not too fond of mushrooms. If you do enjoy your fix of mushrooms, do go ahead though.
9. Foie Gras ($9.50): The goose liver was sweetened and had a strong meaty aftertaste which did not sit too well with me but I did like how the velvety meat packed a strong flavour that is definitely worthy of some praise.
10. Tsukune ($3.50): This skewered meat puzzled me a little at first sight but upon learning that it was minced chicken, I delighted myself in a bite of the sausage-liked meat. It was rather tasty and while it had a centre a little mushier than that of an ordinary sausage, it was not overly mashed and soft, which was just perfect.
This bowl of Kawa Ebi ($12), otherwise known as deep-fried river shrimps, is perfect for sharing and a good snack to have with your sakes. While there was a strong seafood smell, when doused in lemon juice, the seafood taste of the shrimps are nicely paired with a citrus flavour which really helps. The Kawa Ebi grows on you and becomes rather addictive much like the prawn crackers during CNY.
As we were slowly feeding off the Kawa Ebi, the final dish of the night was delivered to our table. We were served a generous portion of Hiyashi Chuka Ramen ($12.50) and though we were all stuffed, we promptly dug in to this very opulent dish. Coupled with little bits of ikura that burst with sapor in our mouths and refreshing shreds of cucumber, the cold ramen tasted heavenly.
This dish also had a generous portion of char-grilled chicken and crabmeat, which together with the heavy seasoning of sesame oil, made the entire dish impeccable.
While it may seem rather anti-climatic to end off here, especially with the last dish being part of the main course and not a dessert, we were very full and definitely contented with life by the end of the night.
I really do recommend those who appreciate a good Japanese meal and a dose of sake to visit JINzakaya at least once to see for yourself what I mean when I say that they did a fantastic job with creating a fantastic Japanese-tic atmosphere and serving scrumptious dishes.
Expected Damage: $40 per pax