Last time my parents came to visit me in Nagoya my dad surprised himself by how much he enjoyed the food, raved about it he did. Mind you, with him not being an adventurous eater – dad considers fish only a food if it’s battered and comes with chips – I erred on the side of caution, kept away from seafood, and stuck with yakitori and karaage, because who doesn’t like fried chicken and meat on sticks, right?
However, when they come back again in a few weeks’ time I want him to branch out a bit, because let’s face it, it’s not a real Japanese experience without sushi and seafood, is it?
So, it’s really important for me to choose the right place: not some stuffy sushiya where he’ll feel all uncomfortable; but nor to a kaiten sushi restaurant filled with families and high school kids. Fortunately, I know just the place: Isono Odaidokoro Furari, and having heard that a new branch has opened in Fushimi next to the Hilton Nagoya, I just had to check it out in advance of ‘the royal visit’.
Just on the north side of the Nayabashi Bridge (across the river from the big dolphin mural and opposite a fancy-looking riverside champagne bar), the new Furari is a bit tough to find on a first visit, but it is certainly worth the trouble.
The first thing you notice inside is the huge aquarium at the entrance stocked with some amazing looking shellfish. Freshness, here, is not going to be a concern.
The dining area itself has a relaxed, refined atmosphere with a definite Japanese feel; the wooden fixtures, the ‘noren’ curtains, the sake bottle displays. I’d say it has the air of a cut-above izakaya; ideal for gatherings with friends or co-workers, or a laid-back, casual date.
Once settled into my booth I scanned the menu and immediately knew that I had to try their signature dish, the Kai Buro shellfish nabe hotpot. It was a decision I realised, as soon as it arrived, that I would not regret.
The shellfish had come straight from the aquarium, and as such were so fresh that they were, well, kind of moving. I’ll admit, I was a little squeamish at this, but still I closed the lid and turned up the heat.
As a watched pot never boils, rather than wait I moved onto the next dish: potato salad. Yeah, I know, potato salad, how ‘gaijin’ of me. But this is like no potato salad that I bet you have ever had, being as it was mixed with skipjack, mackerel and narazuke, a sake-flavoured radish that is a Nagoya specialty. I found it incredibly moreish and got struck right into it, finishing the dish as I waited for my hotpot to complete. And yes, it was a dish for two. Don’t judge me.
So, finally the nabe was done and as I lifted the lid the scent of the dashi wafted up to me.
Now, I’m not generally a fan of dashi broth as I tend find the katsuo a little too ‘fishy’, but perhaps thanks to the immense scallops, juicy clams and plump mussels within, it was mouth-watering. The scallops and apakai (a form of huge Japanese scallop) in particular were out of this world.
Next up was the tempura. Now I’ve had tempura at a variety of Furari restaurants, and they never disappoint. Beneath the crispy, tender batter the giant prawns were as juicy as it was possible to be and the shungi greens – my favourite Japanese veggie – were amazing. The only thing that I couldn’t rave about was the taranome, a mountain vegetable not dissimilar to bamboo. For my taste taranome is a little too bitter, but those of you who love bamboo will lap it up. If you’re not keen, pick something else, as you generally cannot otherwise go wrong.
As I was wiping the tempura flakes from the front of my shirt the next dish came, the one that my father fears above all: sushi. But for me, Furari’s sushi holds no fear, particularly as my mother-in-law orders it by the metaphorical cartload whenever she takes me to the Meieki branch, but still, as used to it as I am, it never fails to set my taste buds alight. This particular selection was a spring concoction, with a fatty otoro tuna and modorigatsuo bonito, a cherry blossom snapper, and tiny sweet cherry blossom prawns wrapped in nori seaweed. I decided there and then, that I could be certain that my dad would have no problems with this. It was all so top draw that if he were to, he’d need his bloody head read.
If there was one thing that may bother him, I considered, it is the lack of something stodgy to fill him up. This is a man for whom a meal is not complete without a thick slice of bread and butter or, on Sundays, Yorkshire puddings. But just as that thought crossed my mind, came the piece de resistance: ramen noodles slipped into the remaining hotpot dashi.
Though full to bursting I waited the few moments for the noodles to heat through before serving up. Not only did they hit the spot perfectly, filling that carb shaped hole in my affections, but the dashi was by now amazing, and if Furari had it on draft, I could drink it by the pint.
It’s not always easy being certain of things that your family will enjoy when coming to Japan, but it’s so much easier when you know Furari. And not just unadventurous parents, but also friends, co-workers, that guy or girl you’ve had your eye on, your Japanese mother-in-law, the lot!
Reasonably priced, guaranteed fresh seafood in a stylish, relaxed restaurant, you really can’t go wrong.