Co Renkon is part of the Renkon group of izakayas or Japanese taverns in Kumamoto, the others being Renkon and Tenpo-Ryuan. Its friendly service, delightful fusion food and its commitment to quality paddock to plate cuisine was recognized when it was short listed for the National Izakaya Grand Prix.
In Japanese the word Renkon is translated as Lotus Root. In Kumamoto, sliced lotus roots served with mustard-like filling are called Karashi Renkon. It may not sound appetizing, but is often eaten with beer or shochu, kind of like a tsumami or beer snack. Karashi Renkon is actually a healthy snack, originally served to revive the Daimyo Hosokawa in the Edo Period more than two hundred years ago. The crunch of the lotus root and the spiciness of the mustard make it a good appetiser.
Co-Renkon, on the other hand, takes the tsumami theme further by offering some unique fusion snacks that takes Kumamoto cuisine far beyond the humble lotus root. My favorite dish is the medley of clams served with a butter broth, and topped with shredded radish and spring onions, marrying both the European and Japanese culinary traditions, something reminiscent of butter miso ramen from Sapporo. The rich taste of the shellfish goes well with alcohol, while the butter broth adds fragrance without overwhelming the dish. It also makes the most of the natural spring water from Mount Aso, giving it a soft texture. Kumamoto is unique in the sense that its water supply comes from spring water filtered for many years through the rocks underneath Aso san.
The prawn and cabbage dumplings on the other hand takes on a Vietnamese flavor with its natural taste, the light use of spices and the use of rice paper. The complexity of the prawns is lifted by the crunch of the spring onion and cabbage. Dishes like this are meant to be shared, making this place suitable for small groups, as having a few dumplings in a row can be a bit too much.
The handwritten menu in Japanese calligraphy on the wall gives this place an old time dimension, and if you can speak some Japanese, why not ask them for a recommendation if you don't know what to order. Its juicy Miyazaki Hyuga chicken is popular, accentuated by the use of Okinawan sea salt which is handmade using clay pots over a charcoal fire. It goes well with the rice which is locally sourced from Nankan and Yamaga.
All this is washed down with the draft beer which comes in large glass jugs, making it a great place to catch up or celebrate with family or friends. Actually when I was there the small tables were populated with parties of two to six people of all ages, all having a great time in the atmospheric top floor, simply decorated with dark wooden beams, contrasting with the blonde wooden floors and the framed posters of beer girls dressed Taisho Chic style in kimonos from the 1920s. The cloth curtains and the hangers where guests can hang their jackets give this eatery a homely feel, like a gathering at your aunt’s place during the New Year holidays.
On the other hand, if sitting on the floor is uncomfortable for your legs, the tables downstairs at street level might be better, especially if you get a bit tipsy and have difficulty negotiating the tight wooden stairs if you were eating on the top floor.
Co-Renkon is located on Route 104. From Minami Kumamoto Railway Station, head south west towards Route 104 and then turn left. You will pass the Post Office on your right, and then it is about 15 minutes on your left. Yes it is a bit far from Kumamoto Castle and the City Center, but this suburban eatery is one of the standouts in Kumamoto.
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