Checking out a couple of new izakaya-inspired, mall-based restaurants, starting with Mamasan Yakitori, the affectionate nickname for this deliberately grungy-looking bar that's more formally known as The Wonderkafe, tucked on a corner of Avenue K's street level, beside its big sister Wondermama X.
Yakitori rules the roost - two sticks of savoury-succulent chicken clock in at RM10++, a predictable price for a city centre outlet. Skewered squid, lamb, salmon & prawn with garlic sauce are available too.
True to the tradition of the Wondermama family, there's always a twist or two to the recipes here. Grilled beef comes not only on skewers but in 'sandwiches' too, stuffed with kitchen-made pita bread with tomatoes, lettuce & fries for a hearty pleasure, accompanied by pickles & potato salad. RM18.90++.
The rest of Mamasan's repertoire is made for snacking - enjoyably chewy dried stingray slices with a dollop of mayo (RM15) ...
... raw octopus made dangerous with the sting of wasabi (RM14) ...
... lightly grilled beef tataki with garlic, sesame & ponzu sauce (RM20++) ...
... & (coming full circle here with a final course of chicken) can't-fail fried fowl, crisp & juicy, with wasabi tartar sauce. RM15++.
Inventive 'Wonder Cocktails' - Mamasan Punch (RM26++; shochu, bubble gum syrup, aloe vera, fuji apple) & Kyoto Sour (RM26++; sake, grapefruit, tabasco, lemon juice, agave nectar, ground pepper) ...
... plus Zakuro Summer (RM35++; Japanese whisky, pomegranate juice, port, lemon juice, sugar) & Kirin ichiban beer.
Next up, 1 Utama's Ichiban Izakaya, probably too sleekly polished & spacious to resemble most folks' impression of an izakaya; consider it a modern izakaya, maybe, There are very appealing artistic flourishes in the setting here too - look upward. As far as the ambiance goes, it's a fine set-up for a friendly hangout.
But the kitchen still needs to step up. There might have been teething troubles when we visited - the skewered pork belly (RM12++) tasted like meat that was either past its prime or had never been in its prime.
The thought of grilled eel in buns is tempting, but the unagi here wasn't wholly satisfactory (reminiscent in taste & texture of budget-conscious Chinese imports that you might purchase at a store's frozen-food section), wrapped in buns that weren't fresh or fluffy enough - a possible consequence of the lower-than-expected RM15++ price tag for this plate.
Faring a bit better: Grilled tuna jaw (RM68++), commandingly meaty, adequately moist, sufficient for four to share.
Sea urchin teppan fried rice (RM45++). There's a fair amount of uni in this bowl, interspersed among the grains of rice, though this isn't the sort of recipe where morsels of sea urchin can make a major impact. Still, it's a decent dish; even if it ultimately & only tastes like good - not great - fried rice, we like how Ichiban has a few unique specialities.
Ichiban's trump card might be its widely touted Kirin frozen beer, with a foamy top that helps keep the beer cooler for longer.
Mamasan Yakitori At The Wonderkafe
G-8C, Avenue K, Jalan Ampang, Kuala Lumpur. Daily, 230pm-midnight (last order at 1045pm)
Ichiban The Izakaya
Ground Floor, Rainforest Zone, 1 Utama, Petaling Jaya. Near HSBC.
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