Friday, May 02, 2008

The Daily Wanker 2008 review of bars: Matsue and Tottori

Should one ever by accident find oneself in Matsue, rest assured that one of the first things you will need is a drink and some good food. So here is a review of some of the better bars in that benighted town, and in nearby Tottori (where the food is better).

kumakichi: located in kyomise, this Japanese Inn (izakaya) provides food and drink in a convivial, highly Japanese environment. Like most of the bars in Matsue it has no English language on the menu, and the menu has no pictures, so you really need to go with someone who can read. But there are too things you can eat without the menu - walk up to the bar and you will see a plate of what look like deep-fried fish skeletons. These are "karei karaage", deep-fried flounder, and absolutely no better is available anywhere in Japan. They look like the most horrific thing you have ever eaten but they are unsurpassedly delicious, and quite an experience. You eat the whole thing, by the way - head, fins, tail, everything. Do it with your hands, breaking the bones into pieces and crunching them down. The bar also has an excellent set of sashimi, and I thoroughly recommend the kawahagi if you go in winter. The kawahagi sashimi comes with a little piece of liver, which tastes for all the world like some kind of savoury cream. Crazy! The staff here are really friendly and it has its own brands of shochu (Japanese liqueur, a bit like whisky and made from wheat, rice or sweet potatoes) and sake. The food is universally excellent, and the atmosphere the cheeful, rowdy atmosphere of a typical Japanese Inn.

kagetsu: an izakaya near kumakichi in higashi hon machi, kagetsu looks from the outside like a wood-walled fortress. Inside it is superbly appointed in traditional Japanese style, with a fine curving bar downstairs and private rooms upstairs. There is a kind of curved aesthetic to the whole thing, as it is on a street-corner, so between the private booths and the open tables upstairs they have a little zen-garden curving around the tables, and curving windows overlooking the street. The food here is excellent, particularly the sashimi and salads. Once for a starter they served us a plate with a tiny, whole crab on it, roasted whole in honey. One had to eat the whole thing - legs, head, shell, the lot. Their selection of Japanese alcohols is excellent, with Plum wines and sakes and Sho chus from regions all over Japan, laid out by taste and style. The staff are friendly and accomodating, and the service inobtrusive. The service here puts a premium on Japanese style decoration, and regional foods and drinks.

foods inn, rise inn: two branches of the same restaurant, one near the university and aimed more at the university scene, one in the city and aimed at business people. These too are izakaya with a wide selection of foreign ("ethnic") foods to choose from, including Thai and European. Foods Inn definitely has a Handsome Boy hiring policy, while Rise Inn maintains an excellent cocktail menu. Once we had the all you can drink option at Rise Inn, and discovered that their all you can drink menu includes White Ladies and Martinis. I drank White Ladies for 2 hours, and got rather hammered. The decor at both restaurants is good and the staff friendly, but it is more businesslike than the other izakaya mentioned here. Fortunately the menu includes some pictures, but again no english.

Sign: Sign provides a bit of a cross between a restaurant and bar environment, with upstairs more like a bar. They provide Italian and Asian-style food, including excellent pasta, and bar-style drinks and coffee. The upstairs bar is decorated like a kind of lounge/bar, so there are many couches including couple couches facing the window, for privacy while flirting. Screens protect the customers from seeing the bar, so one feels one is in a loungeroom. The staff are a little busy and standoffish, but for large groups it is the best way to have a low-key evening of eating and drinking, and it is extremely convenient to the station.

Bihaiv: perhaps meant to say Beehive, is a macrobiotic restaurant near Sign which provides vegetarian and meat dishes, alcohol and hippy foods. It is decorated like a Spanish bar, very small and cosy. I cannot remember if the menu has English, but one staff member lived in NZ and has excellent English. They make some fine sake cocktails here, and the fake-meat food is great. Good for a hearty meal.

Bar EAD: the nicest way to have a relaxed drinking experience in Matsue, Bar EAD overlooks the lake near the older bridge, Ohashi. It is close to kumakichi and kagetsu for cheaper, after dinner drinks. The drinks are not sophisticated and it only serves finger food, but the staff are cheerful and inobtrusive, and the feeling is again that of a lounge bar. The view is excellent, providing a vista of the shoreline and the lake, with a stretch of river between. Always a good way to finish the night.

Cafe EAD: opposite bar EAD, cafe EAD is open only for half the week, from perhaps midday to 10pm. It serves food, wine and beer, and cakes and coffee. It is a tiny cafe, set in an old sake brewing shop, with 2 tables downstairs and 2 tables upstairs plus a couch. The decor is kitsch second-hand 50s and 60s stuff, battered wood and strange posters, just like an inner-urban cafe anywhere else in the world. The staff are very sweet and kind, and you can make friends with them pretty easily. Both levels have a view of the river and lake, but not as spectacular as from Bar EAD. The curry lunch is cheap and good.

Alibi: a cafe/bar near the University which provides excellent cheap lunch and dinner sets, and a range of simple cocktails, beer and wines. It plays jazz, has a couch and a couple of tables, and is waited upon by the most handsome men in existence (according to the Delightful Miss E, whose tastes we may recall are quite suspect). The staff are kind and friendly, the food is good and the atmosphere that of an unhurried lounge. An excellent way to end a hard day of "study".

Blue Crow: A food and cocktail bar across the road from Alibi, Blue Crow has minimal decorations but an excellent cocktail menu. Not only does it include its own creations on the menu, but the back page of the menu gives a list of suggested words you can throw at the waiters to get a unique taste. These include "first love", "snow", "spring", "rain", "sweat"(?), etc. It's a fine experience to come here with friends and try to guess the ingredients of the barman's first love. Mostly, it would seem, they are sweet and slightly purple.

In Tottori, my most frequently visited places are:

fuchan ramen: next to Tottori station, an excellent spot for a huge helping of karaage at lunch time. The ebi karaage (deep-fried prawn) for a mere 650 yen will keep you going for 2 days. A classic ramen restaurant, with a cheerful and welcoming obachan to draw you in.

luz restaurant: an izakaya on the main entertainment street, little more than a nook in the wall with an excellent range of foreign foods, including south east asian, and regional Japanese alcohol. The staff are friendly, it has a singing bird and a very cute toilet.

cafe chocolate: the food and drinks are ordinary, but Mr. Hiroki maintains that the bargirl is the most beautiful and sexy woman on the Earth. "She is perfect!" On hondori from Tottori station.

bar DNA: a bar with 80s disco style decor, popular with foreigners in Tottori but (due to the unique nature of Tottori foreigners) not a toilet. It runs regular night clubs, although at times it is simply open for a night of drinking and 80s music. If you want to meet a foreigner who has done more than anyone else to forge the unique foreign community of Tottori, visit DNA and ask for Stephen. He used to run the incomparable Viva Shiva restaurant, source of the best homus in Western Japan. Sadly that has now closed so he can focus on DNA - so make it worth his while and pay him a visit.

murthi: a South-East Asian style South East Asian restaurant between the International House and the big shopping centre (Jusco? Saty?) in North Tottori. It has a big projector for playing music videos, cane armchairs, friendly and welcoming staff, and good south east asian food. The Pad Thai is excellent. Also, a hippy shop is attached. Well worth a visit if you are staying at the Kaikan, or if you have a car.

These are the places I have mostly frequented over the last 2 years, though in Tottori particulary you can drop in pretty much anywhere and be guaranteed cheap, excellent food. For a culinary tour of Japan par excellence, I recommend the San In coast at any time of the year.


Blogger Miss Ember said...

Hear hear!

Bihaiv also offers great vegan dining in Matsue.

Stephen of DNA runs the San-In Beach Party at Kozomi Beach in Tottori, held the first weekend of July. You can camp on the beach and dance all night in the dancing tents, or even go for a midnight swim! Definitely worth checking out

9:01 PM  
Blogger Sir S said...

I saw Stephen yesterday actually... he told me tickets don't go on sale for another 2 weeks and this year will be bigger and better than ever.

Brace yourself, young lady!

11:01 PM  

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