By Rod Walters
In the entertainment district of Matsuyama stands an elegant building with a façade of white plaster and tile, a traditional wooden signboard, and an evocative Meiji-period lamp. There may be other excellent chicken restaurants in town, but this is the best one that I know of.
Kushihide serves chicken of the Iyo Pollo brand, which is free range chicken reared in the lush countryside just outside Matsuyama. A lot of chicken served in Japan comes from Thailand, which means that it isn’t exactly fresh. But the taste of the chicken at Kushihide speaks for its lively local freshness.
The last time I visited Kushihide, I chose the rather luxurious ‘Shingen’ course for 4,500 yen. The meal unfolded at an unhurried pace, starting with a large dish of chicken sashimi, which is to say, uncooked sliced chicken. The Japanese practice of eating uncooked flesh is not restricted to fish. Chicken sashimi is firm and sweet like fish, but just a little more chewy. I would be circumspect about eating this dish at another restaurant, but I felt sure that the locally reared chicken served at Kushihide would be safe.
A charming feature of this restaurant is the large bowl of fresh cabbage served to every customer, with a miso dip. This makes a healthy and tasty snack in between servings of chicken.
The course continued with a salad garnished with tasty chicken skin, various yakitori and chicken wings on skewers, and karaage fried chicken served with slices of lemon. Karaage is often laced with garlic or ginger, but none of this adulteration is practiced at Kushihide. The simple combination of the fresh chicken and lemon is superb.
A ceramic tray holding a knife and fork signals a change of pace. Over the counter comes a china plate with a round hamburger of chicken in a demi-glace sauce made from chicken stock, with carrots and broccoli. This too is excellent. Then the chopsticks make their return for the next course — chicken steak with mushrooms and capsicum peppers. You might notice that the mushrooms accompanying the chicken steak taste particularly good. And if you enquire about the salt used to bring forth this flavour, the elderly and most hospitable chef will tell you that it's Hakata sea salt, produced on the islands of the Inland Sea.
The meal ends with a bowl of rice cooked with chicken and vegetables, and a cup of light golden chicken broth.
The food at Kushihide is sourced and served with loving care, which is half the hospitality equation. The other half, a warm welcome and engaging conversation with the staff, guarantees a very satisfying meal, whether you go alone or with companions.
Name in Japanese
くし秀 — Kushihide
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I was born in Bristol, England, and I came to Japan in 1991 … which means I’ve lived half my life in this island nation on the other side of the world. The theme of my career in Japan has been communication. I started as an English teacher, and moved into translation as I learned Japanese. I worked at a well-known electronics manufacturer, facilitating their multinational communications before I became a freelance translator. As such, I translated a lot of tourism-related information. It was obvious to me that most of this isn’t sufficient to convey the excitement and wonder of Japan. In 2011, I established Knowledge Travel Partners, an inbound tourism consultancy. After living in several regions of Japan, I settled in Ehime where my wife is from. It’s on the southern island of Shikoku facing the beautiful Seto Inland Sea, Japan’s Mediterranean. The pace of life here is slow and peaceful, but we do like to throw a raucous festival now and again.