Kiko Izakaya

Conveniently positioned on Nanluoguxiang but set far enough back from the street so you don’t spend half the evening looking out the window, distracted by the scrum outside, is cute little Kiko. This restaurant calls itself an izakaya – the Japanese equivalent of a pub-bistro – but we found most customers firmly focused on food rather than booze.

There’s a wide menu to choose from, including pages dedicated to all things raw and fishy. But, as a general rule of thumb, you’re better off heading to a reputable sushi joint if you want to enjoy these par ticular Japanese delicacies in the Jing.

For appetisers, warm grilled quail eggs (10RMB) arrive on wooden skewers with a sweet teriyaki-like sauce. They’re not as tempting as this initial description of them might sound. Roasted capelin fish with salt (20RMB) is a species of smelt that is typically roe-heavy. Sure enough, the dish arrives laced with roe but it’s not nearly salty enough. Ask for some extra salt to dip into and liberally squeeze the accompanying lemon, and they’ll do just fine.

Assorted pickles (10RMB) include daikon and cucumber varieties. They are neon-bright, artificially so, and as authentic as those found in supermarkets across Japan.

Similarly, chicken curry (30RMB) might not be the first dish you think of when you crave Japanese cuisine, but this is an institution of the Tokyo businessman’s lunch and an early Japanese adaptation of Western food. Kiko’s offering is slightly spicier than you’d expect but there’s a familiar blend of flavours that pleases the taste buds. This is Japanese curry, hence a generous portion of sauce but disappointingly dry chicken and a measly allocation of veg.

A passable rendition of Japanese stewed pork is juicy and tender chunks of rich belly topped with dashes of mustard. This comes with sautéed potatoes, preferable to a separately ordered side of jacket potato (called ‘grilled potato’ on the menu, 8RMB) massacred by sprinklings of sugar – an attempt at transfiguring a normal potato into sweet potato, perhaps?

Better accompaniment for the pork is the roast garlic (8RMB). The cloves are baked in a bulb until soft but not caramelised, and deliver a flavour hit to cut into the pork if you alternate bites of the two.

If you haven’t chosen too many spicy dishes, the udon soup with nameko mushrooms (28RMB) makes a great end to the meal. The dashi-based broth is light and delicate and could easily be drowned out if you’ve had too much la. Meanwhile, the udon noodles, slippery nameko mushrooms and wakame seaweed glide down the throat in a comfor ting manner.

Run by a Chinese mother and daughter, this is a per fectly decent joint if you’re on NLGX and hungry for something more than chuan’r, but it lacks the usual finesse of all things Japanese.

First appeared in Time Out Beijing on May 16, 2011.