There's three Kura restaurants: there's Kura, and there's Kura Kura, but so you don't keep on repeating yourself they just called this one Kura III. Kura III has become our favourite spot in Chinatown to sit outside with a couple of beers and some nibbles, watching the world go by. They have some good beer specials, and the food is pretty good too.
We recently read a wonderful, wonderful book called "Pretty Good Number One" by Matthew Amster-Burton, where the author spends a month in Tokyo with his wife and daughter eating the everyday food of the people that we love so much.
In the book he says "I found this cheap everyday food lovingly called B-kyu ("B-grade") by its fans - so satisfying and easy on the wallet that I rarely ventured into anything you might call a nice restaurant." We'd never heard the term 'B-kyu' before but it sums up exactly what we love to eat in Japan. It's not just that it's cheap, it's cheap and it's really, really, really good.
Japanese food is never as good outside of Japan, and B-kyu is no exception. But if you sniff around town for the Japanese-run places you can at least get in the ball-park.
The Kura restaurants are a good place to delve into the world of b-kyu. These restaurants are Japanese run and staffed by lovely, friendly folks of student age. The clientele is mainly western and Chinese folks so sometimes the presentation of dishes may be a little un-Japanese, but overall it's pretty good B-Kyu. In fact we've been to some rather high priced so-called Japanese restaurants in town, we won't mention any names, such as Sake, thinking we can get a higher level of quality if we pay more but in the end we can get the same or better food for a quarter of the price somewhere B-kyu.
B-kyu is A-kyu to us.
Hokkaido Japanese beer on tap - $6.50 for 400ml. Nice'n'fresh'n'cold. They have a great special where you can get a couple of beers and a free snacky for only $10. That's one of the best deals in Chinatown. Sometimes this deal isn't advertised and the staff can have trouble explaining it, asking for the "beer set" worked for us.
The beer set usually involves some kind of salmon offcut. Our favourite is the salmon skin, tempura-ed pieces of salmon skin with a little bit of the pink flesh still attached. We find the crispiness of the batter varies from week to week, it's always an adventure.
Another beer deal snack is deep fried salmon fin. It's pretty good but would love it fried up more so the fins go all crispy and crunchy like chips.
Asari sakamushi - steamed asari clams in sake sauce - $5.80. This is probably our favourite dish here. The clams are cooked in sake in a way a Western chef might cook mussels in white wine and garlic. The sake gives a sweeter, deeper flavour than wine, it's wonderful. We've been back for this a couple of times. In one of those overpriced so-called joints you would probably pay $25+ for this dish, but we won't mention any names, such as Sake.
Wasabi octopus. We've had this dish of raw octopus and wasabi elsewhere and found the raw octopus flavour a bit too full on. But here the octupus flavour is nicely balanced against the wasabi, and it's sweeted a bit with some sugar or mirin. Yum. Again, you would pay $15 in some overpriced so-called Japanese joint that we wouldn't name, such as Sake.
Beef tongue and spinach set - $10.80 with rice and miso soup. The tongue is cut nice and fine so there is more flavour than regular beef, but the tongue offally tongue flavour is not overpowering. If you weren't told it was tongue you wouldn't know otherwise. Even offal-wary Mr Shawn digs this one.
Yakiudon seafood - $11.50. Fried udon noodles with fruit of the sea. It comes with two scallops and Mr Shawn gives one to Miss Chicken, now that's love.
Tsukune & egg don - $9.50. Lovely balls of manufactured chicken mystery meat that are so bad yet so good, so wonderfully B-kyu, covered with some gooey egg and lovely sweet onions on rice. Yay.
Seafood kura ramen - $11.90. Ramen purists will poo-poo this dish but it is a simple, uber delicious noodle soup with lovely sweet seafood notes in the broth. It has a few calamari rings, a couple of little prawnies and even a scallop. Don't think of it as ramen, think of it as a bloody delicious seafood noodle soup.
Kura ramen - $8.90. Cold ramen noodles in sweet and salty puddle of soy and mirin, with some sweet an salty braised pork on top, with ginger and a little seaweed stuff and ginger. Yum.
Teriyaki tofu and vegie set - $9.30. We don't usually order 'teriyaki' flavoured stuff but this tofu number is awesome - the taste and texture clash of fried silken tofu in a sweet sticky sauce works wonders. Served with finely grated cabbage and some baby spinach, rice and miso soup on the side.
Chicken & Egg Don - $9.50. A favourite dish of ours, chicken pieces and onion simmered in a sweet/salty mixture of onion, soy, mirin and sake with egg added at the end. So simple yet so delicious.
We've started cooking this dish at home using Frances' recipe on Cooking With Dog - http://youtu.be/QMJY29QMewQ. We read in 'Pretty Good Number One' that in Tokyo this dish is served with the egg all nice and runny, we'll be tracking that down on our next trip in August (woohoo!).
BACK AGAIN JUNE 2013...
We stop in for the $10-two-beers-with-fried-salmon-bits deal. We try the grilled ox tongue which is superb, as well as the steamed clams in sake which we are addicted to.
Kura III is at 6 Dixon Street, Chinatown - the north end of Dixon Street that is.