This Tokyo Izakaya will blow your mind!
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Some say the best Izakaya's in Tokyo are in Shinjuku & Shibuya but I beg to differ. If you google "Izakaya Tokyo" you will be presented, within seconds; hundreds & thousands of hits geographically located in these areas. Despite google & yelp telling me where I should go to get the best sake, late night nibbles & hospitality, I decided to follow my nose ( & recommendation from Simon & Martina) to Kichijoji.
Arriving at Bakawarai at opening time we were ushered to the nearest stools, situated right at the grill. The owner was incredibly cheery, as was the chef who entertained us all night long. He asked us what we liked & didn't like in terms of food & began to prep almost immediately. But before he began, he enthusiastically demanded we put a sticker on the house world map to indicate where we were from. Now I'm pretty good at geography but from where my sticker was placed, Brisbane could possibly be the new Sydney...oops! ( and I wasn't even drunk yet)
After the ritual was complete he started the preparations. To this day I'm still not clear on what the first dish was that we ate. He described it as eggs that had been prematurely taken from the chicken, some sort of chicken innards that I have never encountered & liver. We ate about 3/4 of the dish & washed it down with a few too many glasses of sake. We decided that more sake was indeed needed if we wanted to continue eating.
Boy did the sake start to flow. From the wall behind us, we had a whole array of sake to choose, from different regions, cities & craftsmen. Every one was a delight to drink. Some soft & floral others bold & cutthroat. Our sake glasses were filled to the brim & then some; with cold sake overflowing into the glass dish below it.
This is not an uncommon gesture in Izakayas across Japan, & the custom is known as sosogi-koboshi. Our hosts told us the story behind each kind of sake we were drinking. When our glasses were empty we were prompted to pick another, & another & another. As our drinking increased so did the flamboyancy of the staff. We were merely a warm-up for the people to come through the door much later.
To the side of me hung homemade bacon, drying in long thin strips. The fat dripping every once in a while onto the grill. The Izakaya itself was narrow, but with lots of seating. The walls were plastered with business cards, stamps, artwork, graffiti, clippings & photos. No surface was left uncovered from patrons leaving their marks & histories.
We arrived super early, so we had most of the izakaya to ourselves. At 7 PM the local crowd started to arrive. Halfway through our third round of sake a couple of travelers sat beside us. The one seated closest to us resided from Canada the other (not so friendly chap) New Jersey; both were currently living in Tokyo for work. We spoke briefly with them, as the American fellow didn't feel so inclined to talk to us. Not that it mattered much to us as the chef was our new best friend, our main course was about to be initiated & we had had enough sake to drown a small prefecture.
Up next was a fluffy omelet featuring thick cuts of tender pork, shallots & cheese. There was a catch though; We had to flip it ourselves! With a spatula in hand, my (VERY) drunk partner had a go at being the cook. In his head he was the next Iron Chef, in the video evidence that surfaced the next day; he was incredibly inebriated & it was a miracle the food made it to the plate.
After the hilarious omelet intermission, a generous portion of Wagyu beef was put onto the grill. While we waited for it to cook, I indulged in a plate of sashimi. I would have taken a picture of the incredible masterpiece that it was, however, I forgot to due to my intoxication & hilarious conversations. Instead here are a few grill shots & the wagyu!
As the Izakaya started to fill up the hosts became more and more rowdy, provoking the partons on as they ordered more sake & food. I noticed some tables had an egg on them, & was told by the owner that if you call to make a booking, they will reserve your table with an egg, then cook with it later on! If you make a reservation, you also get a slight discount off your tab.
If you want to dive head first into the deep end of Tokyo's Izakaya culture I highly recommend Bakawarai. I mean the name says it all! "Laughing idiot" !! The hospitality is outstanding, the food A+, the sake OMG & the ambiance is one to remember.