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Right by Zhongshan Park, hiding in plain sight, is one of the best Japanese restaurants in downtown Shanghai. This is Toriyasu (or Niao An in Chinese), focusing on Japanese-style grilling and skewers.
Hidden away behind an unmarked wooden front, the atmosphere is definitely at least half of the appeal. Ducking in through the tiny door immediately feels like getting in on a great secret. You’ll be greeted by the smell of burning charcoal, rushed waitresses and the loud chatter of 30 or 40 people having a really good time. It’s a mix of locals, laowais and Japanese parties enjoying what I assume is a taste of home, brought together by ice cold Asahis and sake. Literally brought together - you’ll probably be sharing tables with these strangers and sitting close enough to get to know them a little. Embrace it.
It’s great for small to large groups looking for an atmospheric, lively dinner. But the intimate, lively and authentic setting make it a good spot for a date too, if you’re both down for something different and don’t mind your neighbors at the table overhearing you conversation.
Either way, make reservations, especially if you’re going on a Friday or Saturday. Can’t stress that enough. They have a habit of not answering their phone, but keep trying. Expect to spend between RMB 150 and RMB 200 a person including a beer or two, unless you start running up a sake bill.
So, the food. Some ala carte dishes, particularly the teriyaki chicken, fried kimchi and exemplary Japanese-style fried chicken – I don’t know how they get the skin so crisp yet so light – are worth adding to your order. They help provide bulk. But the grill is where the real action is. Every part of the chicken – from skin to breast to liver – is cooked pretty much to perfection and served on a skewer. The whole grilled squid is killer. The grilled bell peppers are perfectly seasoned.
It’s the kind of cooking that’s small, shareable and – crucially – the ideal complement to cold Japanese beer. The fact that you get to enjoy it in exactly the right atmosphere, in exactly the kind of surroundings that it feels designed to be eaten in, make it pretty much perfect.
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