Japan chain Kushikatsu Tanaka opens at Clarke Quay

Chiritori hotpan (above, $18 for two for beef, $16 for two for pork) is also on the menu of Kushikatsu Tanaka, which is opened by Ms Hiroe Tanaka and Mr Keiji Nuki (both top).
Chiritori hotpan ($18 for two for beef, $16 for two for pork) is also on the menu of Kushikatsu Tanaka, which is opened by Ms Hiroe Tanaka and Mr Keiji Nuki (both above).PHOTOS: AZIZ HUSSIN FOR THE STRAITS TIMES, KUSHIKATSU TANAKA
Chiritori hotpan (above, $18 for two for beef, $16 for two for pork) is also on the menu of Kushikatsu Tanaka, which is opened by Ms Hiroe Tanaka and Mr Keiji Nuki (both top).
Chiritori hotpan (above, $18 for two for beef, $16 for two for pork) is also on the menu of Kushikatsu Tanaka, which is opened by Ms Hiroe Tanaka and Mr Keiji Nuki.PHOTOS: AZIZ HUSSIN FOR THE STRAITS TIMES, KUSHIKATSU TANAKA

The famous Japanese chain offers fried skewered meats and vegetables

Kushikatsu Tanaka - a famous chain from Japan specialising in kushikatsu (fried skewered meats and vegetables) - launched its first Singapore outpost at Clarke Quay last Wednesday.

The brand made the news earlier this year for its fairy-tale success story.

Rocked by the Lehman Brothers financial crisis in 2008, Ms Hiroe Tanaka and her business partner, Mr Keiji Nuki, had planned to end their business ventures in the Tokyo food scene.

While packing her bags to return to Osaka, she stumbled upon her late father's kushikatsu recipe and convinced Mr Nuki to open a kushikatsu outlet by the end of 2008.

Fast-forward nine years and the business, which became a listed company last year, is valued at US$82 million (S$110.6 million). There are 167 outlets across Japan, with four more set to open this month. It also has a branch in Hawaii.

Ms Tanaka and Mr Nuki, both 46, were in town last week for the opening of Kushikatsu Tanaka.

It is a franchise outlet managed by Suntory Food & Beverage International, a subsidiary of the Suntory Group which runs eateries such as Japanese restaurant Sun with Moon at Wheelock Place and the Pepper Lunch chain.

 

Kushikatsu Tanaka adds to the recent trend of fried skewered foods, following brands such as Ginza Rokukakutei at Odeon Towers and Panko in Haji Lane.

Kushikatsu is a speciality street food from Osaka which has gained traction across Japan.

The duo plan to ramp up its popularity in other countries. Mr Nuki says in Japanese via an interpreter: "We are raising the recognition level in Tokyo. When people think of kushikatsu, they think of Tanaka. It has almost become a daily food."

In the menu here, the skewered items - battered in fine panko crumbs and fried in a blend of oil which includes beef fat - are priced from $1 to $2.50 a stick.

Ingredients include beef, prawn, asparagus, oyster and even a dessert version of cookies and cream. Just dip the skewers into the "secret recipe" dipping sauce and add a dollop of mayonnaise.

No double-dipping is allowed and there is cabbage on the table which can be used to scoop up extra sauce.

There is a cover charge of $3 a person for the dipping sauce and cabbage.

There is no service charge.

Other dishes on the menu include chiritori hotpan ($18 for two for beef, $16 for two for pork), a sizzling hotpan dish of beef or pork slices served on a bed of beansprouts and topped with beef offal and chilli powder for a spicy and savoury flavour.

To finish the remaining soup, diners can cook curry cheese risotto (additional $7) on the pan with curry powder, cheese and rice.

Diners can also get hands-on with the D-I-Y (do-it-yourself) onigiri ($5) and D-I-Y potato salad ($8).

The kushikatsu goes well with Jim Beam highballs (from $6). The alcohol menu includes shochu, wine and sake.

Adding to the buzzy izakaya-style atmosphere is the Japanese drinking game of Chinchirorin, which diners can play.

Throw two dice in a bowl and say "Chinchirorin". If you roll doubles, you get a free Jim Beam highball.

An even number gets you a half-priced highball while an odd number means you pay double the price, but for a double-sized highball.

Ms Tanaka still fondly recalls her late father making kushikatsu for her at home. She had spent years trying to perfect it before she found the recipe.

She says: "My version was not very different from my father's recipe. But it just didn't taste the same. When I found the recipe, I decided it's my last chance to just do it."

•Follow Eunice Quek on Twitter @STEuniceQ

•Kushikatsu Tanaka is at 01-01B Clarke Quay Block A, 3A River Valley Road, tel: 6258-3789 or search for "Kushikatsu Tanaka SG" on Facebook; open: 5pm to midnight (Mondays to Thursdays), 5pm to 2am (Fridays and eves of public holidays), 11 to 2am (Saturdays) and 11am to midnight (Sundays and public holidays). Lunch on weekdays from noon to 2.30pm starts on Thursday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 18, 2017, with the headline 'Kushikatsu Tanaka opens'. Print Edition | Subscribe