As NAGMAG’s roving restaurant reviewer I am regularly inundated with requests from friends for recommendations of where to go and eat. However, on occasion I am asked about areas outside of my sphere of knowledge, which stumps me quicker than Adam Gilchrist*. One such place has historically been Kanayama, but now having tried out Kululu, just south of the Kanayama Station, this is no longer the case.
Kululu is a three-story restaurant divided up for all of your restauranting needs. The first floor is a casual izakaya, while the second is set for private dining in the traditional Japanese style.
The third floor is unlike anything I have seen in Nagoya’s izakaya, in that it is a function room that can sit up to 60 people complete with projector and mic, perfect for celebrations of all sorts. It’s certainly something to keep in mind when the Christmas and Sayonara parties come around.
Being alone as I was (by choice, of course, you can put the violins away) I parked myself on the ground floor where the manager Kozuki-san showed me a menu chock-filled with local delights.
Those of you new to the city may not know how celebrated Nagoya chicken – kochin, to give it its official name – really is, but the locals will sing its praises as high as, if not higher than, the highest awning of Nagoya-Jo, or the observation deck of the TV tower. And as I flicked through the menu, it was kochin, kochin everywhere.
I asked Kozuki-san for his recommendation and he plumped for three options. The first was the hikizuri, a delicious looking kochin nabe soup with seasonal vegetables in a soy dashi broth, which looked that perfect measure of healthy and warming for when that autumnal chill sets in. I was drawn particularly hard to the tebasaki chicken wings and miso kushi katsu, both Nagoya specialties and both firm favourites of mine. But when I saw on the menu (which will be in English, by the way) the kochin sushi and sashimi, I knew exactly what I wanted.
Now, I’m about take you back in time to a month before I first came to Japan. I was at a wedding party in Sweden and, as the bride knew of my impending emigration, I was placed next to the only Japanese in the room. My table companion for the evening spent the meal extolling the virtues of Nagoya cuisine, and it all sounded wonderful until she brought up the chicken sashimi: raw chicken. As far as culinary rules go, this went against everything, but whisk yourself back to the present day and I am an absolute glutton for the stuff, it’s like crack to me. But unlike a regular freebaser of Columbia’s finest, a near half-decade later I am still here to tell the tale.
For obvious reasons the summer months are not a good time for eating raw chicken, but now as autumn begins to feel the nudge of winter, November is the ideal time, and I was delighted to see three types on my dish: muneniku (breast), sasami (highest quality breast) and momo tadaki (thigh), all artfully displayed as if sculpted by Rodin in his lost ‘tori’ phase, and all looking good enough to, um, well you know…
Now, while the first bite is taken with the eye, the proof is in the pudding, and with my soy and wasabi as well mixed as my idioms, I at first dug into the muneniku, which was nice in an unusually juicy and chewy kind of way (until this time I had only had sasami sashimi, so this was a new sensation for me. Speaking of which…) The sasami was of course a melting delight. It faded away on my tongue, even the slightly blanched outer layer registering a zero on the chewability scale. It was absolute heaven.
I had left the momo tadaki until last, partially because as a fan of the darker meat I love a bit of thigh, but mainly because I was eyeing the outer skin with trepidation. Let’s face it, if it was going to be anywhere, it was the skin that was going to do me in. But Kozuki-san assured me that, as the skin had been lightly roasted it was entirely safe to eat, and not only was it safe, it was bloody gorgeous.
The roasting gave me delicate flashbacks of my mum’s home cooking, but the firm and chewy flesh, having been introduced to the ponzu sauce, was something of a revelation. Apparently this is all thanks to the fact that some of the kochin here is of a specially aged variety – 300 days as opposed to the usual 120, something for which Kululu is fully certificated and licenced for. It’s a dish that you won’t find just anywhere.
And it’s a dining experience that you won’t just find anywhere, either. So next time you’re heading to Kanayama, whether it be for work, a night out, or just to get a connecting train, and you’re thinking of belling me to ask for suggestions, instead simply type くるる into your smart phone. Consider it well and truly recommended.
*A little joke for the no doubt thousands of you who fall in the middle of the ‘reads NAGMAG’ and ‘likes Australian cricket’