Written with passion by Caleb Ho
** JUNE 2014: UNFORTUNATELY THIS PLACE IS NOW CLOSED **
I’m not going to deny it – I’m a “Japanatic” (that’s Japan fanatic for you folks). I love almost everything about Japan, especially its food culture. So, this is going to be slightly longer than usual. Indulge me, if you may. Ever since I stepped off the plane from my trip to Japan two years ago, I’ve missed the Land of the Rising Sun every day. Sometimes, I eat in Japanese restaurants to fool myself that I’m still in Japan, yet I long for an authentic izakaya. Just how many izakayas are there in Malaysia? Not many. Good ones? Even fewer.
So, after hearing so much about Shuraku, I just had to find out for myself.
“It’s Friday night, roads soaked with rain, cool wind brings a friend. “ (That’s my attempt at Haiku right there). And so it was a perfect night to sit out on the balcony of this second-floor Wonder Bar. A bright yellow lantern greets us as the door, paper sakura adorn walls next to Kabuki drawings as Japanese commercials play endlessly on a TV screen. I MUST be in Japan!
It didn’t take long for us to decide what to eat. Nearly everything on the menu seemed inviting and so we started off with Yasai Stick (RM10). Long cold crispy strips of raw carrot, cucumber and turnip in a wine glass. Nothing special? Wait till you dip them in the pasty yet smooth salty sesame soy sauce - so good we wanted to take home the sauce.
I’m used to cold sweet tamago (Japanese rolled omelette) but a warm, lightly salted version with spring onion bits? This is a first. Pair it with a cold radish mix and you have the perfect balance of “egg-ness” and saltiness, warm and cool. The Tamagoyaki (RM12) is worth a try.
The Buta Kakuni (RM18) is something familiar to Chinese palates. Basically braised pork belly in soy sauce but this has that Nippon touch with a hint of Wasabi. The meat is tender and there’s a good balance of sweetness and saltiness in the sauce.
Next up was the Hotate Gariku Mayo (RM16) – succulent scallops topped with melted cheese and garlic sauce. Those who know me know that I’m not a cheesy person (and not very corny either) but I liked this one. It had a lovely mix of textures and those sweet scallop juices just burst in your mouth. (My, my… the poetic side of me is simply taking over).
Now if there was one dish which stood out as the clear winner for all four of us, then this was it – Ebi Mayo (RM20) a blend of deep fried crispy prawn bathed in cold sweet and salty mayo sauce. Ichiban des! I’m not going to say anymore. It really is the pick of the bunch.
Of course when you’re in an izakaya, you have to order a few kushiyaku (grilled meat on sticks). Both the Asupara Maki (RM6) and Tsukune (RM7) did not disappoint in flavour. Richly bathed in saltiness, it might prove to be too salty for some. The former is grilled asparagus wrapped in sliced pork, the latter is grilled chicken meatball. The Tsukune does have a saving grace in the accompanying watery poached egg mix but the cold gooey texture might put some people off. I had an extreme version of this when I was in Japan – a cold raw egg dip that goes with meat out of a steamboat. Not my favourite thing, I have to say.
One thing I couldn’t pass up was hanging out with my long lost Japanese friends in Tokyo. They took me to an okonomiyaki establishment while I was there and that experience has stayed with me. Does Shuraku’s version stand any chance of matching that? You betcha! This Japanese pancake was both soft yet springy with the mix of squid and prawns giving it a wonderfully balanced texture. Topped with mayo and dried fish flakes, this is as close as you get to the real thing, what more at RM23 for the seafood version.
Finally, to add to the authenticity of an izakaya experience, we ordered a bowl of hot Udon (RM18) to fill up our tummies. ‘Comforting’ is the word for its lightly flavoured soup with a mix of leek and Japanese fishcake. Of course we saved some room for dessert. The Green Tea and Black Sesame gelato (RM10 per scoop) while not Shuraku-made, is on par with the rest of the menu items. I find it a little pricey though (just like everything in Japan).
And to top off the night, we had a round of Suntory Premium Malt (RM28) and Chuhi (RM16), which is a mix of fruit juice and alcohol. What a way to end a refreshingly authentic Japanese experience! Kampai to that!
Food: 4.5 / 5
Drinks: 4 / 5
Service: 4 / 5
Ambience: Just imagine you’re in Japan and that’s Shuraku for you (Hey, it rhymes! There goes my poetic side again).
Pros: I think it’s clear this place is a winner. One more thing - it’s easy to find if you know where Maybank Solaris Mont Kiara is. Find the staircase facing the open pavement on the ground floor with the sign “Shuraku”, walk up two floors and you’re in Nippon heaven.
Cons: Cons? What cons? Pfft!
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