Frayed menus, old beer posters and a large wooden bar set the mood at Furinkazan, a drinking establishment that has served Japanese-style pub grub in the vicinity of Taipei’s Linsen North Road (林森北路) for nearly 20 years. The restaurant’s clientele, mostly made up of office professionals and Japanese businessmen, come for the simple but well-prepared fare and the relaxed atmosphere — and they don’t mind paying a premium price.
Billed as a robatayaki, a type of izakaya (the Japanese version of a tapas bar) where patrons sit around an open hearth on which food is grilled, the bar is at best an updated version of the Japanese dining tradition, with an experienced, smiling staff replacing the usual wooden paddles. That said, the establishment is bathed in a nostalgic air and old-time charm with its old furnishings, atmospheric, yellowish lighting and a hearth where fish is hung to dry.
The restaurant’s specialty is grilled meat and skewer dishes. Served with teriyaki sauce for dipping, the chicken meat balls (雞肉丸NT$80) option lives up to its popularity among food bloggers, finely wedding the savory tenderness of minced meat and vegetables with the crunchiness of chopped chicken cartilage. Another popular item is the chicken skewer (雞肉串, NT$80), which has a slightly charred skin and juicy meat.
For a good companion for icy-cold beer, the grilled cuttlefish (烤小卷, NT$280) with its al-dente texture is a must-try. Have that instead of the forgettable grilled beef tongue (NT$280).
The grilled vegetable selection on the menu is as good, if not better, than the meat section. The round, chubby breed of eggplant (NT$150) from Japan is grilled to perfection by two young chefs manning the hearth. The staff will recommend that you dip bits of the eggplant in soy sauce, but I think it’s best to enjoy the vegetable sauce-free and let the smoky flavor run the show. Not to be outdone, the grilled corn (NT$150) is luscious with a dusting of salt and a glob of butter.
Address: 16, Lane 77, Zhongshan Rd Sec 2, Taipei City (台北市中山北路二段77巷16號)
Telephone: (02) 2581-5365
Open: Monday to Saturday from 5:30pm to midnight
Average meal: Around NT$1,400
Details: Menu in Chinese, Japanese and English; credit cards accepted
Like any good Japanese bar, Furinkazan stocks a selection of beer (NT$130 to NT$180), sake (NT$150 to NT$480) and shochu (NT$180). Try the homemade plum wine (NT$160), which is pleasantly light and fruity. But be careful with the homemade mulberry wine (NT$160), which is stronger than it might sound.
Do not despair if your drinking companions stand you up. The proprietors, a jovial couple, are always keen to entertain their guests with chitchat and toasts. Diners who sit around the bar can hardly be bored, especially with the husband, a natural-born comedian who seems to enjoy the limelight.
The verdict: The good food, convivial setting and sociable owners ensure this well-worn restaurant remains busy during the week and jam-packed on weekends. But all this comes with a hefty price tag — you’d be lucky to fill your belly for less than NT$1,000.