That lively strip called Nanluoguxiang might as well be called Hutong Main Street. The little offshoots are often worth a meander, with delightful finds such as Suzuki Kitchen, a bright, clean wooden little space with symmetrically arranged tables and a simple open kitchen. Folks here do the Japanese student thing in a demure cool way, with do-rag get-ups covering the scalps of goatee-spor ting dudes with black framed glasses, T-shirts and baggy jeans – a sort of Asian Where’s Waldo uniform – while the girls have giggly fun when this joint gets jumping.
Suzuki Kitchen is what happens when a former Japanese teacher called Suzuki and his Chinese student, with a bizarre obsession for bunnies (it’s not just because of the lunar year), develop a fondness for student Japanese staples.
Choose your weapon from a choice including a curry of chicken, beef or vegetables. Whatever your star, the brown gravy sauce is the same (20/30RMB), and it’s good Japanese curry, albeit a little bland in the spice. This is neither Thai nor Indian, but the Japanese take on curry that has become legendary in its own right despite the fact that it’s no looker – a bumpy brown land map with tiny vegetable or meat mountains beneath a thick, gloopy cloud of sauce.
Sizzling hamburger steak platters (28/38RMB) are grill-marked patties that are perfectly shaped with that earnest practice so well taught in Japan. Each comes wearing different outfits of sauciness, from teriyaki to demi-glace or cheese, but with the same ice cream scoop of mashed potatoes and vegetable accessories sold as solo acts or as parts of the well-priced set. An additional few RMBs on most mains turn your dish into a combo of salad, pickles, rice and miso soup – which, though a strange choice, makes more sense than the combination of fruit juices that seems to be a singular selection of orange (Really? With a saucy burger?).
Karaage (28RMB), Japan’s excellent version of fried chicken, is good dark meat with the crunch that it should have. Iron kettles of steaming sukiyaki (30/38RMB) are adorable edible play sets. Also available are the necessary rice bowls with fried pork cutlet or toppings of kimchi or chicken or both (20/25RMB).
Fishbowl-sized salads meant for sharing, or as a main, float about the room causing envy. This is where seeing isn’t tasting – when the Suzuki salad (25RMB) arrives, we find the nubby bits of pork are a salt lick among the eggs, iceberg and cucumbers. Bad enough to send back, it’s happily replaced with a green salad (22RMB) that hits the opposite end of the flavour scale with barely enough dressing to enliven it, and watery iceberg that adds little.
Suzuki Kitchen is a cosy haven of comfort away from the busy main drag. For those wanting a little sit-down quiet, stick with the front court garden. Alternatively, climb up to the roof and take in the relaxing surroundings.Lillian ChouPart of the Nanluoguxiang area.