Casual encounters of the seafood kind at a drinking den in Gubei.
I don’t like Jeju Izakaya
I know it’s the hot table these days. I know it’s impossible to book. I know I’m supposed to be wowed by it. But, crashing a friend’s booking a couple weeks ago, I left feeling none of the things I’ve read about: awed, inspired, even just plain old satisfied. Instead I felt deflated. And cheated. Don’t get me wrong. The concept is cool. The space is intimate and unique. The Korean guys running it are handsome. It’s easy to see how this combination, with a dash of exclusivity, has turned it into a hype machine. But the food is a letdown, a pedestrian stroll through mediocre fusion cooking that just felt cheap. I’d be surprised if the ten courses I ate cost them more than 100rmb. One course was perhaps eight clams with a little sautéed spinach on top. The uni spaghetti had a single orange strip of urchin. One. Pork neck, four small slices. But the bill? 825rmb per person. That stung.
So, allow me to present a different izakaya one I like, one where it’s obvious what your money gets you: Akatsuki
, the seafood izakaya.
I’m crashing another party by introducing Akatsuki. A few actually. The main party belongs to Japanese businessmen, sitting at tables with bottles of Suntory, soda water and ice buckets, a reassuring sight at any izakaya. The minor party belongs to a subset of foodies in Shanghai who have followed the businessmen, and maybe the Dianping trail, to Akatsuki, and have tried to keep it a secret from the rest of us. Apologies to both the businessmen and the food mafia — but I want in, and I want other people to know about the restaurant as well.
The reason is simple. Akatsuki is a great place to eat seafood in a completely unpretentious environment, and at reasonable prices. The walls are covered in the scribblings of previous generations of customers, covered in defaced Japanese beer girl posters (nothing too raunchy), covered in actual fish fins that have been stuck on with glue. The atmosphere is warm, the place is worn, and the food is reliable and sometimes adventurous.
To wit, a platter of chu-toro
and regular tuna loin — thick, fresh slices — for 198rmb and 88rmb, respectively.
Chewy slices of sea bream, 98 rmb.
And a small platter of sea urchin served with vinegared sushi rice and small rectangles of nori
, for a DIY handroll thing, 118rmb.
On my visit last week, things started to get a little more exotic as we picked off the hand-written board of specials. Two tuna dishes stood out in particular.
The first was a braised tuna eye (98 rmb), not your everyday tuna preparation, but a delicious one, in which the entire eye socket (yes, including the eyeball) is braised in a sweetened soy sauce. The result is something like eating a fish head: small bits of meat clinging to meltingly soft gelatinous and cartilaginous tissue.
The second is perhaps a bit easier to digest: the grilled meat from between the tuna’s ribs, served like a steak, with a brown crusty outside from the grill, and a beautiful rare or medium rare inside, cut into thick slices and given a light ponzu
dipping sauce (168 rmb).
Beyond the world of tuna, Akatsuki also has a good line on fresh prawns. In one dish, they marinate raw red prawns in a light soy sauce spiked with a rose extract; in another, they served peony shrimp (sometimes called spot shrimp) raw and on ice (78 rmb), and then either fry the large head or add it into a miso soup after you’ve eaten the tail.
I’d like to know more about the restaurant, like where the owner is from and why there are fish fins glued to the walls, but when I called the restaurant and tried to speak to the owner, he demanded that I translate his menu into English first before he would talk to me, and then he hung up.
For all of his hard-headedness, he has created a very welcoming place, with an interesting menu and reasonable prices (though menus are in Japanese and Chinese only; no English here). You don’t need to be glued to your phone at midnight on the first of the month for the privilege of securing a seat, as you do for Jeju izakaya.
And for even that, Akatsuki is worth going.
Akatsuki is at the second Floor, 48 Xingyi Road, Building C, Hongqiao New Century Plaza.