Instead of grabbing trays of supermarket sushi for dinner, take a seat at these casual Japanese eateries in KL for mentai rice, saba shioyaki and bowls of creamy torched salmon rice.
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The pared-down eatery features a thrift-minded menu for diners with a slightly thinner wallet. Fresh fish takes centre stage here – all painstakingly handpicked by owner Masamichi Tomono, who hails from a Hokkaido-based family of fishermen. The sashimi are fastidiously prepared – just slivers of sea bream, sea bass and amberjack served au naturel with an occasional sprinkling of chopped green onion.
The restaurant’s vibe is pretty chill, and you may coax a conversation out of the owner himself who’ll gladly educate you on the variety of seafood. When in doubt, order the mentai rice and a comforting cup of hot roasted barley tea – they’ll help ease your way back into the outside world.
For an ultimate crash course on Japanese cuisine, Aoki-tei’s à la carte buffet is a good place to start – you can sample everything at one go, from yakitori, tempura, maki rolls and nigiri sushi to sukiyaki and hot plates. Free-flow of ocha and beer (by the jug or mug) are included, and for saké lovers, come by during dinner as there’s unlimited hot or cold saké available. Note that there are lunch and dinner sessions (with different menus) for the buffet. Reservations are recommended as it gets crowded on weekends.
If your knowledge of sushi begins and ends with inari, this convivial family favourite will expand your horizons without breaking the bank. The restaurant builds its empire (there are currently 25 outlets in Malaysia and one in Singapore) around sushi priced at just RM1.80 and RM2.80. Plates of tamago mentai, chuka idako, shiro maguro and takoyaki ride the conveyor belt, but anything off the merry-go-round is equally good: Their saba shioyaki, by some miracle of marination (we suspect it’s just good salt), is probably one of the best we’ve eaten – plus, it’s only RM11.80 for a thick slab.
Strictly speaking, Mei by Fat Spoon is not a Japanese diner, but their Japanese-inspired comfort food is good enough for us. If you only order one thing, go for the rice bowls – there’s the summer bara chirashi topped with a mound of colourful chopped sashimi, the tender ox tongue rice with a runny egg and garlic flakes, and the creamy torched salmon rice bowl with bunga kantan – where the Pong sisters’ instinctive understanding of textures and flavours is evident.
Among the many mid-tier Japanese joints in KL, Saisai feels the most like home – a casual, unassuming Japanese eatery hidden in plain sight, no frills, no fancy plates. Saisai commands a small space with a sweet, familial atmosphere, but make no mistake, it goes big on taste here. The home-style menu boasts comforting Japanese courses for sharing: Order the braised pork, simmered saba with sweet sauce, and a bowl of oden in light dashi broth. To round up an inexpensive but indulgent Japanese food fix, salads, stews and akashiyaki – round dumplings resembling takoyaki – are also available.
Bangsar South’s Japanese restaurant has a cool and casual vibe that makes it the perfect place to linger in, and the food looks as good as it tastes. Start with sashimi moriawase (RM49), which comprises three types of generously cut sashimi. The crispy kakiage udon best represents Bocosan’s balanced and fun approach to food: the chewy udon noodles are contrasted by a six-inch block of tempura-fried vegetables that sits atop, and the whole dish is brought together by a light, clean-tasting broth. As for desserts, go for the mizu shingen mochi – a raindrop jelly cake with roasted soy bean powder and Japanese black sugar.