Away from the neon lights of Namba and the office towers of Umeda, on a quiet street in Osaka’s Fukushima District is Ayamuya, the only yakitori shop in Osaka to earn a Michelin star.
The narrow counter seats 15, and there is one table near the entrance which seats four. By Western standards, it’s a hole-in-the wall. Because of the limited seating, reservations are a must. You can try to walk-in, but it’s no fun waiting in line when you’re thirsty and hungry. The shop staff can’t speak much English, so if you don’t speak Japanese, have a Japanese speaker make a reservation for you. And, once you get there, expect cool, not overly friendly service. These people are here to cook your goose, serve you booze and ensure your bird arrives hot off the coals!
Yakitori literally means grilled bird. The master uses tanba-jidori, free-range birds raised using holistic methods (think Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms in the movie “Food, Inc.”) and delivered daily from a boutique farm in Hikami County, Hyogo Prefecture, about a 2-hour drive from Osaka.
The meat, skin, and edible organs of the chickens are carefully removed, tenderly skewered and grilled over binchotan, premium charcoal. After the meat has been cooked over the coals, the entire skewer is dipped in a salty-sweet, soy sauce marinade, called tare, and grilled once more to sear the marinade to the meat. The result is pure bliss.
There is a 7-skewer dinner course beginning at ¥2,000, a 10-skewer course for ¥2,500, and an omakase (chef's selection) course for ¥4,000.
When my old buddy from the UK, Matt, and I visited Ayamuya in the spring of 2012, we started with the raw chicken sashimi sampler, or O-tsukuri moriawase at ¥1,500. Yes, raw chicken! I doubt you’ll find a fresher, cleaner sampling of raw chicken breast, liver, heart, and gizzard on this planet, so go for it. The chicken sashimi comes with three different dipping sauces and is truly an only-in-Japan experience.
We followed that up with an order of the liver pate, which comes with slices of baguette at ¥900. After confessing that this was quite likely “the best pate” he has ever tried in Japan, Matt further impressed the master by correctly indicating the type of liqueur used in the creation of the pate (you’ll have to taste and find out for yourself). The ramekin of pate comes straight out of the refrigerator with a slight layer of hardened butter on top, so I suggest letting it warm to room temperature before digging in.
From there, we had the usual yakitori; tsukune (ground chicken meatball), kimo (liver), negima (chunks of chicken thigh with shiro negi/white leek), sankaku (literally “triangle”, but means chicken butt), seseri (neckmeat), tebasaki (chicken wing with salt) and others.
You can choose to have your chicken grilled with the aforementioned tare (tangy sweet soy sauce), shio (salt), or spice, a piquant dusting reminiscient of garam masala. Ayamuya also serves grilled veggies, salads, tomatoes, and other izakaya fare like karaage (fried chicken). They serve beer, sake, shochu, umeshu, wine (from JPY 2,800 – 3,500/bottle), cold tea and soft drinks.
Matt and I ate and drank to our heart’s delight and finally stumbled out after settling the final bill of JPY 13,000. For Michelin-star yakitori, we both agreed that this was well worth it and look forward to the next visit.