Fresh ingredients and delicate presentations are the most charming aspects of Japanese cuisine, and both are put on fully display at a little hidden place in Guangzhou.
A rumour has been circulating of late on Sina Weibo that Guangzhou’s best Japanese restaurant is hiding along Tiyu Dong Lu. It’s an enticing rumour, considering how many Japanese restaurants have opened in the city.
The mysterious restaurant consists of two main parts: Izakaya Marutan on the ground floor and Kyodaifune, the restaurant, on the first floor. Kyodaifune and Marutan is hard to find because it has no sign and no logo. All that distinguishes the place as a restaurant is a small stand outside telling people they offer alcohol and Japanese dishes.
The best way to test the food quality of a Japanese restaurant is by ordering the ramen. Many people will ask, “But why not sushi?” Remember, you are going to a comprehensive restaurant, not just a sushi bar. Sometimes the texture in Japanese cooking comes out in dishes other than sushi.
Soup is the key element to a successful ramen; some Japanese describe it as “the soul of the chef.” Most of the Japanese food providers in Guangzhou serve Tonkotsu Ramen, which contains pork-bone soup. But the chefs in Kyodaifune use seafood in the recipe.
I ordered the salted version, but an unsalted option was also available. Different from Tonkotsu, which sometimes tastes very strong, the seafood soup was more simple, clean and fresh. It is probably not a very local Japanese flavour but it works for me, as a Cantonese. Going with the chewy noodle, tasty char siu, boiled egg, spring onion and nori, it was delicious.
Apart from ramen, the most popular (and delicious) dish is “fried milk with shrimp”. The deep fried technique, called karaage in Japan, is usually used on fish and meat. It is nearly impossible to deep fry milk, but chefs in Kyodaifune have found a way.
The pieces melt in your mouth along with a few pieces shrimp and an unknown dark sauce. The richness is really hard to describe: it tasted like milk, cheese and an overall mixture of tasty. I can’t recommend this dish highly enough.
Now it was time to try the sushi. The waitress suggested the conger sushi, which is popular in Kyoto cuisine. It was the first time in my life I had ever eaten conger. The presentation was very professional, and good quality ginger was provided (which is hard to find at some Japanese restaurants). However, the fish contained small bones, which shouldn’t happen in sushi.
After dinner in Kyodaifune, it was time to the ground floor to take a drink at Izakaya Marutan. An Izakaya is a Japanese drinking establishment which also serve snacks and delicate food. They are sometimes rowdy after-work drinking holes in Japan, primarily serving salarymen.
Marutan serves high-end alcohol, most of which is imported from Japan. On offer is sake, shochu, and more with prices ranging from RMB360 to RMB1200 per bottle. Marutan also has expensive snacks made from wagyu beef, which sell for RMB100 per 100 grams. Other food like Canadian horsemeat sashimi is occasionally available. Despite the luxuries on offer, I opted for a simple Kirin beer.
I would say the feeling inside Kyodaifune & Marutan is that of a small version of Japan in Guangzhou. The restaurant is usually full of Japanese people. Most of the employees also come from Japan. If you like the culture and can speak some Japanese, this is a great place to practice your language skills.
By the way, you will need to sit on tatami mats for dinner, so be aware in case that makes you uncomfortable. Marutan is a bit small with only one bar counter and a tiny table, but the atmosphere is authentically Japanese.
To be honest, it is hard to find a Japanese restaurant with poor service. The nature of Japanese servers is generally polite, and this was no exception. Sometimes, they will even kneel down to serve you food. Nevertheless, the good service can really only enjoyed by Chinese and Japanese, because there is no English menu.
Kyodaifune & Marutan is a high-quality Japanese restaurant with probably the best ramen in Guangzhou. The food is great and there is a wide selection of alcohol. Service is good but it could be better if they had an English menu.
Dinner for one person: RMB200
Address can be found here.