Robatayaki izakayas are delicious and fun! They use a cooking style that originated in northern Japan centuries ago. The layout is also very particular. Konoji in Azabujuban near Roppongi is an excellent seafood izakaya of that style. We gave it a try. Here's what our experience was like!
Have you heard of 'robatayaki' before? If you haven't, then you're missing out on an amazing food experience! Robatayaki is a traditional Japanese cooking method in which all kinds of seafood and vegetables are slowly cooked on a large charcoal grill.
Izakayas that specialize in robatayaki are extremely fun places to visit. Perhaps what's most interesting is that you sit at a large counter from which you see the cook grilling your foods from the other side of the counter.
Giant shrimp served to us
Once your food is cooked, the cook serves it to you by extending a long wooden paddle from the grilling space to right where you're sitting! From the grilling of your order that happens right before your eyes, to the impressive way it is served, it's a really interesting experience!
We went to try out Robatayaki Konoji, a new izakaya located in Azabujuban, near Roppongi. Here's what our experience was like.
Konoji has the perfect warm atmosphere of a traditional Japanese izakaya.
There are two very large 20-seat robatayaki-style counters on which there is an impressive display of the day's fresh vegetables and seafood. It gives you an idea of what seasonal seafood and vegetables they're serving. You can just point to what you want or order from the menu (available in English).
Most items are below ¥1,000, but some delicacies can go up to ¥3,000. The price of dinner will really depend on what you order, but on average people pay around ¥5,000. Note that there are also affordable lunch sets for around ¥1,300.
Here are some of the things that we tried and recommend!
Jumbo shrimp (¥980)
Among the seafood items that were displayed the day we went were some shrimp of a size that we had rarely seen. We just had to give them a try.
The chef carefully prepares the shrimp by cutting the shell vertically so that it can be stretched out on a skewer.
Then the grilling begins. You see some smoke and flames rise as the chef brushes some oil on the grill, occasionally turning each item until everything is cooked to perfection.
Our shrimp were removed from the grill and promptly handed over to us piping hot with the giant spatula. The taste did not disappoint! They were plump and juicy, packed with savoury umami. They're a bit on the expensive side of the menu at ¥980, but for the size and great taste, they're of good value.
Mackerel skewer (¥380)
If you want something cheap and satisfying, you should try these mackerel skewers! We're used to eating 'yakitori' (grilled chicken on skewers) in Japan but you rarely come across pieces of fish grilled on skewers that way.
They're brought to a golden brown and seasoned with salt. Simple is definitely best when you have fish of excellent quality like this mackerel. With a slightly crispy outside and a soft inside loaded with delicious fish oil, it was scrumptious!
There are also lots of vegetables to try - some of which are not very common like this 'makodake' that we had. In case you're not familiar with makodake, it's the bottom part of the Manchurian wild rice plant. It has a corn-like taste and a soft texture that is similar to bamboo shoots. This item was also simply seasoned but the perfect robatayaki grilling seems to enhance the natural flavors. Makodake is really worth the try!
Clams are nice items to order because fresh ones like these taste amazing, for one thing, and they're also entertaining to look at while they're being grilled!
Slowly cooked over the robatayaki charcoal fire, you see them open gradually until the two shells are spread wide open. They're pulled off the grill and served to you with the clam juice still bubbling inside. These were definitely some yummy clams with deep-tasting oceanic umami!
Conger eel (¥1,280)
Conger eel, or 'anago' in Japanese, is a kind of Japanese delicacy that they make really well at Konoji. It's a bit tricky to make because it has to be grilled while being brushed several times on each side with a soy-based, slightly sweet tare sauce. The one we got served was cooked to perfection with a balance of saltiness and sweetness that was spot on.
Try the shochu!
Konoji has a pretty extensive drink menu that includes beers, wines, highball drinks, etc. - we recommend, however, that you try one of their shochu (Japanese spirits). They have a particularly nice selection and glasses of good quality shochu are offered for just ¥600 or ¥700. The degree of alcohol of shochu is 25° or 30°, so you can have them either on the rocks or cut with a soft drink. Shochu pairs wonderfully well with seafood so give it a try if you're not sure what to have.
Looking for a great Izakaya to start your evening in the Azabujuban-Roppongi area? Then Robatayaki Konoji is an option to consider. The food is fresh, tasty, and healthy, and the atmosphere is perfect for spending some time in good company. You can casually walk in with some friends, or alone too since Konoji is essentially a counter-seat tavern.
One last thing, it's also possible to dine in a private room with a table that can seat up to 7 people. If you wish to do that, however, you'd better make a reservation since they only have one private room.