Ginza station has to be the world’s best metro station for gourmets, housing not only Jiro Ono’s world-famous sushiya, but also the one Michelin-starred yakitori restaurant called Birdland. Whilst having simple places to eat around metro stations might not be that unusual, Birdland is no ordinary yakitori joint.
Yakitori (grilled chicken) is a humble thing that is usually paired with liberal helpings of beer or other alcohol, and consumed in simple izakaya that are dotted around Japan. People have it after work, and the restaurants serving yakitori can be quite animated as an evening draws on. That it can be done entirely differently, however, is shown by a handful of upscale yakitori joints.
Whilst the normal yakitori shops will be cheap, and cheerful, a place like Birdland belongs to the latter category. The room is plush, it has a fine wine list, Riedel glassware, and a dedicated chef speaking very good English. Equally, the menu is available in English, reflecting that the Michelin-star has done its bit in attracting the food-tourists en masse.
Another difference that sets Birdland apart from the run of the mill izakaya is the careful sourcing of the chicken. In this case, they mainly use Shamo gamecock, which is highly prized, and often used in the city’s best yakitori joints.
The best thing for someone who has not all that much experience with yakitori is to order the omakase menu, which leaves the choice of skewers to the chefs, according to your dietary requirements, and what is available. Before you get your bits of grilled chicken, a couple of small appetizers appear which often feature a chicken liver paté (served as a tiny portion). A truly superb little dish is the medium-rare chicken fillet, which is topped with yuzukosho (a mix of yuzu, sansho pepper, and salt). This is superb, with the condiment giving a touch of acidity and aromatic lift to the tender, juicy, and deeply flavoured chicken meat.
The individual sticks that follow are no worse, showcasing careful cooking, and very good chicken. Additionally, the sauces here are applied a little more carefully, so as to not completely hide the chicken’s flavour.
The question whether Birdland is worth the praise that has been bestowed upon it, is a difficult one. On the one side, there is very little to fault with the chicken, and vegetable swekers, and the cooks here clearly know what they do. On the other hand, the operation feels a little too much like a machine. Guests are not exactly encouraged to get too cosy, and the speed with which the meal is served also signals that a swift departure is recommended. This is quite a contrast to the warm, homely atmosphere in simpler (and in some cases equally fancy) yakitori places, and makes the whole experience a little less enjoyable.
Whilist Birdland’s food is very good in its category, one feels a bit like a number, rather than a guest. Given that there is better yakitori to be had in Tokyo, and other restaurants offering more of a warm atmosphere, it is not exactly a place that one feels the urge to revisit all that soon.