Fuku: Yakitori restaurant in Yoyogi Uehara, Tokyo
Reviewed by Lukas Kratochvil
You will never know just how good grilled meat on skewers can be until you visit Fuku, a yakitori (grilled chicken) restaurant in Yoyogi Uehara, Tokyo.
The approach sounds deceptively simple: source the best free range chicken, add the appropriate amount of salt and grill it over bincho-tan (white charcoal). In the real world, it rarely translates into the level of jaw-dropping perfection celebrated at Fuku.
A cosy little restaurant with four tables and a counter, Fuku serves all traditional cuts of chicken as well as some more unusual fare.
Under the watchful eyes of owner Suzuki-san, two chefs labour behind a glass hood, expertly preparing the chicken and barbecuing the skewers until the meat is charred on the outside and utterly juicy and succulent on the inside.
Our naive plans for a dinner of civilized proportions evaporated quickly as we were tempted into ordering the majority of items on the menu, draft beer and some sake. Let me share some of the standout dishes with you.
First off, the classics. Neginiku (leg meat and leek, often called "negima") was perfectly salted, with the sweet flavour of the leek beautifully complementing the tender meat. Tsukune (minced chicken balls) was a juicy and wonderfully charred mixture of lean and fatty mince with small bits of nankotsu (cartilage) added for texture. Tebasaki (chicken wings) combined the crunchiest skin imaginable with meat that was melt-in-the-mouth succulence itself.
The more unusual menu items were equally impressive. The sasami-niku (highest quality breast meat) skewers, one with wasabi, the other with umejiso (salty plum sauce and shredded shiso (perilla) leaf), represented the softest chicken I had ever eaten, with the subtle taste of the meat, the freshness and sharpness of the wasabi and the purity of the sake creating the perfect harmony of flavour and texture.
'Rear-end of chicken' does not sound like a particularly attractive dining option, but in the form of skewered bonbochi (tail), it was divine. The full flavour of the deliciously fatty meat was accentuated by the crispy, smoky-tasting skin, and cartilage inside provided a satisfying textural contrast.
The next dish tori wasa (raw chicken) - occasionally makes visitors to Japan nervous, but displays better than anything what Fuku is about: freshness of ingredients and balance of flavours. Plump, soft raw chicken breast was marinated in fresh wasabi and served with shiso blossoms and leaves, myōga (young ginger), soy sauce and negi (spring onion). Nothing short of sensational! The texture and flavour of the chicken is comparable to that of sweet, raw prawn at a good sushi restaurant. The ginger, shiso and wasabi combine to provide a fresh, crisp and herbaceous contrast that harmonizes with the saltiness of the soy sauce.
Time for some healthy vegetables, we thought. Those arrived in the form of asparagus and green pepper, with the delightfully crunchy asparagus wrapped in somewhat less healthy, but very tasty, crispy charred bacon. To raise cholesterol levels even higher, the peppers were both stuffed with cheese and wrapped in bacon. Skewers of garlic with a tasty salty-sour sauce of miso, vinegar, Tabasco and sesame seeds completed our trio of (more or less) vegetarian options.
On to seafood! Skewers of uncharacteristically soft ika (cuttlefish) and tsubugai (whelk) covered in butter evoked memories of freshly grilled seafood on a Spanish beach. The whelk in particular was a revelation: firm, but not at all chewy, and deliciously sweet.
All this wonderful food comes at surprisingly low prices, mostly 200-250 yen per skewer. Drinks are also mostly inexpensive with the exception of the small and overpriced, but decent, selection of wines. Personally, I prefer beer and sake with yakitori. The sake selection is small but good and inexpensive, featuring two dry and three fruity sakes of varying degrees of sweetness at 600 700 yen per 180 ml serving. Kilin-Zan from Niigata is a good dry option; for those who prefer it fruitier, I recommend Jyou-Kigen from Yamagata.
There are fancier yakitori options in Tokyo, but for top quality, no-nonsense yakitori, I know of no better place than Fuku.
Name Fuku 炭火串焼 ふく
Address 151-0066 東京都渋谷区西原3-23-4
3-23-4 Nishihara, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 151-0066
Opening times 5:30pm - 11:30pm every day except Wed. (closed). Reservation essential; on Sat, Sun, booking only possible until 6:30pm
Credit cards? Yes
Foreigner friendly? Yes: English menu (plus small specials menu in Japanese only); little English spoken.
Non-smoking section? No, but ventilation is excellent.