Going primitive

Experience fireside cooking without feeling the heat at robatayaki-style Genshiyaki

Over the past few years, robatayaki _ the Japanese primitive-style charcoal grill _ has lent a new gastronomic vibe to cosmopolitan dining scenes across the globe. Despite its century-old, homespun origin in the northernmost part of Japan, robatayaki is now regarded in LA, London, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore and even Paris as fashionable.

The restaurant’s chefowner, Masashi Ikawa from Hokkaido, the hometown of robatayaki cooking.

Up until five months ago, there was only one robata restaurant in Bangkok. The 20-seater Akonoya (opened in September last year) on Sukhumvit Soi 49 offers hipsters and deep-pocketed Bangkok diners an introduction to the communal bonfire feast, where food is cooked before you and served by the chef on a huge wooden paddle.

This week's subject of review is the second robata establishment in Bangkok. Genshiyaki, which opened in June, provides rustic fireside dining in a slightly different manner and with more affordable prices.

Owned and run by Masashi Ikawa from Hokkaido, the island where robata cooking was first invented, Genshiyaki focuses on the cooking rather than the dining. Food is prepared in an open kitchen, with grilling _ the highlight _ done over a fire hearth sand pit in the centre of the dining room.

The Hokkaido-style rum steak with vegetables.

Yet diners aren't seated around the cooking station but at their tables where food is delivered by staff.

Genshiyaki's menu, which, unlike most robatayaki restaurants, has the prices printed on it (so you are never at risk of heading home with a hole in your wallet), is extensive. It features a vast variety of fish and seafood imported from Japan, including Hokkaido taraba kani (red king crab), hotate (giant scallop), tsubodai (boarfish), kinki (channel rock fish), ginmatsu (Chilean sea bass) and buri (yellowtail), to name a few. Prices average from 180 baht to 500 baht, though the kinki costs 1,000 baht.

We sampled the buri kama, or yellowtail collar (250 baht). A meaty portion of the fish head was slightly salted and grilled on a metal skewer over an open fire. Enjoyed with a salty, tangy ponzu sauce thickened with grated turnip, this characteristically fatty part exhibited a naturally flavoursome taste and supple texture enhanced by partially charred skin.

Next up were the Hokkaido taraba crab legs (850 baht for two). The gigantic and meaty crab legs were flavourful and emitted a pleasant smoky touch from the chargrill and needed no seasoning.

Thanks to its noble inventory of fresh seafood, Genshiyaki is also a great place for sashimi, especially for those looking for the freshest seasonal harvest from Japan. The kaisenmori awase, or special seafood sashimi plate of the day (580 baht), really had the wow factor.

The special seafood sashimi plate of the day features the freshest harvests of the season.

The neatly presented sashimi platter comprised salmon, trout, yellowtail, octopus, cod, flatfish and seaweed, mostly from Hokkaido's cold ocean. As if to represent culinary prosperity, the platter didn't just boast fresh seafood, but also an abundance of greens.

This healthy dish is beautifully graced with lettuce, broccoli, green peas, carrot, baby corn, okra, cauliflower, capsicum, cherry tomatoes and lemon, and all of them went wonderfully with the raw fish and wasabi-soy sauce. It is a pleasant exhibition of tastes, textures, colours and fragrances, and lends a "refreshing live" touch to the grill-centric eatery.

The restaurant also has a selection of teppanyaki, steamed, soup and salad items.

We ordered the Hokkaido-style rum steak with vegetables (380 baht). Arriving in a sizzling metal pan, the beef morsels, cabbage, capsicum and onions were tossed in a pungent sweet, salty and slightly peppery sauce, were addictive and went great with booze.

Typical robata restaurants often double as an izakaya and Genshiyaki was no exception.

A wide variety of sake, beer, Japanese sochu, Japanese cocktails and highballs are on offer.

Yet the place is not overly dominated by men. A majority of the Genshiyaki clientele are Japanese expats, Hong Kong tourists and local gourmands _ of both sexes. Even on a Monday, which you would normally expect to be quiet, the place started to fill up at 7pm. Food came out very quickly. Service staff, who also speak Japanese, were efficient and knew the menu well.

One of the two robata establishments in the city, Genshiyaki provides Japanese-style rustic fireside dining with affordable prices.

About the author

columnist
Writer: Vanniya Sriangura
Position: News Reporter