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Kazu Yakitori and Izakaya

High-class yakitori in the heart of town

Matsuyama’s entertainment district is centered around the Okaido arcade. The surrounding streets are filled with a bewildering array of restaurants, all with attractive lights and tempting menus posted outside. It can be very hard to choose one as a haven for the evening’s dinner. If you’re tempted to try yakitori—charcoal grilled chicken—Kazu is one of the best options in town.

Located on a narrow street between Nibancho and Sanbancho, the entrance to Kazu is like a little tunnel with a stone path leading to the door. Step inside and you’re greeted by the brothers Kazuyoshi and Kazushige after whom the restaurant takes its name. Apart from the backlit display of sake bottles, perhaps the first thing to catch your eye is the display of sumo wrestler handprints hanging on the wall. The proprietors of Kazu have close links with sumo in Ehime. The décor is modern Japanese, and its conducive to relaxed eating.

Kazu is one of the few restaurants in Matsuyama with a full menu in English, and so choosing is easy. But if you can’t be bothered to choose, just say “Omakase shimasu” and Kazuyoshi will put a representative selection of chicken skewers on the grill for you. Yakitori is an oft-debased style of cooking, with gristly bits of chicken on a stick. Not so at Kazu. The chicken is top quality, whether it comes in plain chunks of meat, in sausage-y tasting balls of mince, or mixed with vegetables. It’s grilled to perfection on real charcoal. The chicken is served with slices of tender cabbage and a dressing of light ponzu—a subtle blend of soy sauce with citrus, and other ingredients handed down to worthy successors.

Besides yakitori, Kazu serves a variety of seasonal izakaya fare. After checking that I’m happy to eat raw octopus, Kazushige produced a plate of tako sashimi. This particular octopus came from the Seto Inland Sea that very morning. The tentacles are blanched in boiling water to tenderize them, but the translucent white meat from the body is uncooked. Both parts have a sweetish taste and a very agreeable al dente texture. I also ordered a couple of yaki-onigiri, grilled rice balls basted with soy sauce. The ones at Kazu were stuffed with salmon.

Good chicken and fish calls for something nice to drink. Besides beer, Kazu offers a variety of quality shochu and sake, including the excellent Shirokawago sake, produced in the southern part of Ehime. If you’re not sure what sake you want, as likely as not you’ll be offered something to try first.

My meal, with a glass each of beer and sake, came to 3,400 yen. Not the usual price for yakitori perhaps, but then this isn’t the usual yakitori.

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