Bincho Yakitori is modelled on a Japanese izakaya: a kind of bar that serves small plates of food to go along with your booze. In Tokyo these range from uber-seedy places in Shomben Yokocho ("Piss Alley"), where you drink rotgut sake, to slick Michelin-starred joints such as Rokkaku.
Bincho is a yakitori-ya and, although the word yakitori translates as 'grilled bird' (typically chicken), the restaurant serves a variety of food, with most being prepared on the long charcoal grill that dominates the room. The first time I tried authentic yakitori was at Bird Land, one of Tokyo's finest yakitori restaurants (see my review here), where I was totally blown away by the quality and freshness of the chicken, and wondered if I could repeat that experience outside of Japan.
I decided to stick with traditional chicken yakitori and took advantage of the specials board that displays things such as chicken hearts, skin, necks, and chicken oysters: those little lumps of flesh found near the back of the bird. I ordered nankotsu (chicken cartilage) from the specials menu, and sunazuri (chicken gizzard – a muscular part of the chicken's digestive tract) and tsukune (minced chicken balls) from the à la carte. The menu lists the price per skewer and there is a minimum order of two skewers of each item.
Yakitori is not fast food; the idea is not to char everything into a smoky oblivion, but instead to gradually cook everything to the perfect level of doneness. I was seated at the counter in front of the grill, which gave me a perfect vantage point from which to watch the chef cook over the warm glow of the charcoal. The charcoal used at Bincho is imported from Japan, presumably a similar bincho-tan charcoal to that I saw used at Bird Land. I watched intently as the chef carefully prepared each skewer; a little dab of tare (a Japanese basting sauce of sake, mirin, and soy sauce) here, a little pinch of salt there, all the while constantly rearranging the skewers on the grill so as they received the optimal level of heat. I struck up a friendly conversation with the chef, and it turns out he is from the same region that the heavenly and fragrant Oku-kuji shamo chickens I had at Bird Land come from. I felt a little guilty as he said our discussion had made him hungry.
|Tsukune (chicken meat balls) and nankotsu (chicken cartilage)|
Sunazuri (chicken gizzards, £2.80) were satisfyingly chewy with a lovely flavour of dark chicken meat. However, it was the tsukune (minced chicken balls, £3.60) that really stole the show. Wonderfully soft and light meatballs were perfectly cooked and very juicy. They had been slicked with the perfect amount of tare sauce, which gave them a slight hint of sweetness. Dare I say it, they were almost better than those at Bird Land.
|Sunazuri (chicken gizzard)|
Food: 7 / 10