Kobushi — world\’s best kushi-age restaurant in Shinjuku

Sakiko took me to the world’s best kushi-age restaurant in Shinjuku—Kobushi, where she ate a decade or two ago. Don’t get confused. This is not kushi-yaki, which is a variety of yaki-tori. The “age” of “kushi-age” means deep-fried, a basically Kansai (western Japan) dish (where it’s called, confusingly, “kushi-katsu”); Kato-san told us there are only a dozen kushi-age places in all of Tokyo. His is certainly one of the best.

Address is Shinjuku-ku Shinjuku 3-21-3, Katou Bldg. 2F, 03-3354-7605. Access from Shinjuku higashi-guchi (east exit), B-12 (Mitsui-Sumitomo) stairway.

We made some notes about what we ate. We started off with the basic course of ten items. The pork was tender and succulent. Shiitake mushrooms were fried up perfectly. Chicken and celery were an ingenious combination. Ebi (shrimp) were wrapped in shiso, the incomparably aromatic Japanese leaf. Kuruma-ebi are the huge, juicy Japanese shrimps. Hotate-gai are scallops. Renkon—the crunchy lotus root. Kisu, a tender white fish. Asparagus works perfectly when deep-fried. Uzura are the quail eggs, the perfect candidate for kushi-age. Finally, another piece of fish—isagi, a tender white fish.

Mr. Kato has been running his store for 25 years. Initially thought he would do tempura, since that was what his family did, but then decided he would try something else. As Shinjuku changed under and around him, he has just continued doing kushi-age for nearly three decades. Judging from the name of the building, he made at least one smart real-estate decision, which probably made him more money than any number of years of frying sticks would.

Each stick is deep-fried individually and lovingly. The oil is part of the trick; the composition is changed seasonally, to give a lighter taste during summer, for instance.

Ten years or so ago Kato-san renovated the inside of the store. But business is still not that good. Problem is that he is a little bit expensive (2,500 yen for his basic meal) for people looking for a quick bite, but he’s not hip enough to attract the cool crowd (and probably doesn’t want to anyway). Since the building he built around his store is probably worth two million dollars I suppose he doesn’t care that much though.

Leave a Reply