Having caught a sneaky glimpse of Bird Land on our visit to Jiro, I could not resist popping in for a pre-dinner snack at grill master Toshiro Wada’s famous yakitoriya. After all our hotel was only a short 10 minute walk away – it would have been rude not to. With a Michelin star under its belt, Bird Land is a more upscale and sanitised version of the grittier haunts you’d find along the atmospheric Shonben Yokocho (aka Memory Lane or Piss Alley) that the local salarymen frequent. Only the best free-range Shamo (gamecocks) raised in the lush river-lined environs of Okukuji are allowed here.
We rocked up just after 5pm to a completely empty restaurant, save for two chefs tending the binchō-tan (white charcoal). It was rather therapeutic watching them silently turn coals to the faint strains of jazz in the background, and I sat mesmerised until the waiter’s offer of sake broke my trance.
We ordered a skewer each of every chicken offering on the menu and a couple of cold starters to tide us over. The Marinated Chicken Skin was rubbery (in a pleasant, addictive way) and had an appetising tang – perfect with our brimming cups of house sake.
Jellied Chicken Gizzards were subtler in taste but I enjoyed the contrast of the crunchy offal against the soft-set jelly.
A short wait, and the skewers started to descend. Chicken Livers were rich, velvety and still pink in the centre.
Kawa and Seseri, two of my favourite chicken bits, was served together on one stick – a genius combination of crisp yet chewy skin and tender flavoursome neck meat.
Zuri (gizzards), simply salted, were enjoyable for mild taste and bouncy texture.
Negima (chicken leg with green onion) was wonderfully juicy and tasty, thanks to a generous slick of tare.
I wasn’t as fond of Bird Land’s tsukune. The balls for me were too soft as the chicken had been ground to an almost sausagemeat consistency. I prefer a slightly courser mince so that the meat retains its integrity – like the ones at Bincho (the fact that they’re served with an egg yolk and a splash of tare doesn’t hurt either!).
A whole chicken thigh was grilled on metal skewers, then removed and cut into portions to serve. A sight to behold with golden skin and rose-tinged meat, it tasted just as great.
As we got stuck into the chicken wings, the last item on our order, I wondered if perhaps there were some special off-menu items we were missing out on. I enquired with the chef and after a brief hesitation he opened one of the drawers under the prep table and placed four extra skewers on the coals for us. Score!
First up were succulent white chunks of what we believed to be sasami (breast fillet), although we weren’t sure as the chef pointed to his side when trying to describe the cut to us. Charred shishito peppers added a lovely smoky aroma to the meat.
Crunchy Nankotsu (cartilage), with plenty of the surrounding meat attached was a real treat despite the extra bit of jaw work needed to get through.
Plump rounded Sori (chicken oysters) looked slightly obscene but were great to sink our teeth into, being both moist and deep in chicken flavour.
Befittingly, the Bonjiri (tail) was the last of the chicken skewers to arrive. The flame-licked fatty morsels were hugely decadent – a true guilty pleasure.
We closed with a couple of the non-chicken options (of which, there were only four). Lightly charred Maitake mushrooms were meaty with a lovely mildy woody aroma.
Myoga (young Japanese ginger) with its gentle bite, countered nicely by the sweet miso topping, made an excellent end to a top-notch bird feast. A few more swigs of sake and we left happily sated, although wishing we were jumping in a cab back to the hotel rather than yet another meal…
Tsukamoto Sogyo Building, B1F
4-2-15, Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
t. +81 (0)3 5250 1081