Esupasu Kita Shinchi 23 1F, 1-5-1 Dojima Kita-ku, Osaka, Japan

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This fusion Japanese restaurant is located in Kitashinchi, a district noted for its restaurants, in a busy street in central Osaka.  As often in Japan, it is small, having just 12 seats at the bar. It opened in March 2009; its head chef is Shintaro Matsuo, who is originally from Osaka, and trained at Kigawa for twelve years. The name means "old flow" as in the flow of a traditional martial arts move, but in this case indicates a respect for traditional style.  A single framed piece of calligraphy decorated the room, a saying that translates to “a tree may be bent by the wind yet keep its shape”, this being a hint at the philosophy of the chef. Koryu’s seats are set out around a wooden counter where you watch the chefs at work. The room was smart and modern, and at the centre of the kitchen area was a grill with assorted types of charcoal and wood. Unusually for Japan, music (in this case Ella Fitzgerald) was playing discreetly in the background. 

First was a little sashimi of Japanese abalone, prettily presented with sprouting broccoli and mustard flower, and a little mustard dressing. This was terrific, the abalone of the rare non-chewy variety, the mustard flower adding a pleasing bite to the dish (18/20). This was followed by burdock root with pine nuts and a tofu sauce, which was pleasant if less exciting (15/20). A selection of sashimi followed: maguro tuna, razor shell clam, red tilefish, snapper and mackerel. The tuna was very good but the star was the razor clam, which had not a hint of chewiness and possessed lovely flavour; this was the best razor clam I have ever tasted. The tilefish, snapper and mackerel were OK but not in the league of the clam (16/20, much more for the razor clam).

Next was a soup of shrimp and bamboo shoot. The shrimp was cooked well and had nice flavour, the bamboo shoot very tender (16/20). This was followed by a simple grilled mushroom, a local mushroom from the Osaka area that resembled a cep in taste. The mushroom was perfectly cooked and gained an additional flavour note from the wood over which it was grilled. This was simply dazzling, one of the best mushrooms I have ever tasted (19/20).

This was followed by a seaweed with a vinegary dressing and a fruit granita which our helpful waitress was unable to find a translation for, made from a local fruit. The balance of the dish was good, the sweetness of the granita and the sourness of the vinegar working well (16/20). The main dish was blackthroat sea perch, with a sauce of butternut sprouts. This was served with a pair of new potatoes, taro root, and crispy fried fish skin. This was another impressive dish.  The fish was perfectly cooked, the potatoes had remarkable flavour, and perhaps most impressive of all was the fish skin crisp, extraordinarily light in texture (easily 18/20). The savoury courses concluded at this point, as is traditional, with a rice dish, in this case congee, with pickles, including a pickle of daikon radish from Osaka.

Dessert was strawberry from Osaka, almond cream and a sesame crisp. The strawberry had superb flavour and the sesame crisp was remarkably light (17/20). This was an extremely enjoyable meal, with a couple of really dazzling dishes.  Presentation was excellent, ingredient quality was very high and the cooking at a high technical level. As a bonus service was very friendly and helpful, and although our waitress spoke limited English she went to a lot of effort to help with translating dishes with the aid of assorted dictionaries. In one case the chef produced a picture on his iPhone of a ingredient that did not have an English translation. The bill came to ¥26,019 including several beers, which works out to £99 a head, a price level that seems to me a bargain for the quality of the food on offer.


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