KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 31 — Seiji Fujimoto, the undisputed izakaya king of Taman Desa, knows the regular patrons of his four popular shops – Sanuki Udon, Taishu Yakiniku Japanese BBQ, Maruhi Sakaba Yakitori and Lao Jiu Lou – have been waiting to see what he’ll serve up next.
Well, their long wait is over as Fujimoto has finally launched Nikai, his latest outlet in the neighbourhood.
Located directly above Lao Jiu Lou, Nikai – its name in Japanese means, aptly enough, “first floor” or “upstairs” – is fashioned as a very traditional Japanese drinking bar.
Wooden beams criss-cross the ceiling. With a “gravel” path on the floor, leafy plants and a few carefully-placed stones, and you have a space that is considerably posher than his other more casual outlets. Indeed, there’s almost a Zen vibe here.
“I’ve always wanted to open a Japanese drinking bar,” says Fujimoto. “A place where you can enjoy your drinks with some Japanese-style snacks. At the same time, I also considered opening a sushi and sashimi place, not a restaurant – there are plenty of those already – but a smaller space, like an izakaya. Nikai is my way of combining both the drinking bar and the sushi bar, I guess.”
For an evening of relaxed drinking, sit at the drinks bar where high wooden stools, dim lights and a marble-top counter create a sophisticated yet cosy ambience.
Besides the usual beers, Nikai also serves Sapporo draft beer, served from a keg. Traditional Japanese liquors such as shochu and sake are also available. On a cold, rainy evening, ask for your sake to be heated up; nothing like hot rice wine to warm you up, body and soul.
There is a plethora of snacks to go with your beers and sake, such as edamame (boiled soybeans in the pod), pickles, salted and crunchy renkon (lotus root) chips, and chilled tamago tofu, silken smooth beancurd with the subtlest flavour of wholesome egg.
If you’re more of a fan of raw fish and seafood prepared the Japanese way, grab a seat at the sushi bar where you may observe the chef creating platters of sashimi and nigiri sushi.
In lieu of ordering from the à la carte menu, you may also enjoy the sashimi as koryori courses. Koryori-ya enables diners to sample from a variety of fresh and seasonal ingredients. Fujimoto explains, “Consider it a series of small plates so that you can try more of everything.”
There are three koryori courses, each named after a rather fearsome creature – Cobra, Anaconda and Scorpion – with three, five and seven types of sashimi respectively. Every course comes with five appetisers; the Anaconda koryori includes an additional fried dish while the Scorpion course has both fried and grilled dishes.
Our Anaconda koryori begins with an array of appetisers including a salad, pickles, stewed octopus, goma (sesame) tofu and chilled okra with grated daikon (radish).
The deep-fried shishamo (smelt) are addictive little bites. As for the sashimi platter, the chef’s selection that day includes salmon, tuna, octopus, mackerel and flying fish. These are served with wasabi, as well as grated ginger in two ways – marinated in shoyu (soy sauce) or blended with fresh lemon.
Need some carbs to fill you up? Try Nikai’s kaisen donburi, a bowl of vinegared rice topped with fresh seafood (“kaisen”). But a full belly isn’t the goal here as Fujimoto explains: “Rather than having a heavy meal, Nikai is more about enjoying little bites with your drinks. Bring your friends so you can share and have a good time!”
First floor, No. 25, Jalan Bukit Desa 5, Taman Bukit Desa, Kuala Lumpur
Open Tue-Sun 7pm till late (around 1am-2am), last orders 11pm. Mon closed.