You’ve gotta love a city whose primary motivation is to accumulate wealth then promptly squander it through the time-honored pursuit of kuidaore (eating oneself to bankruptcy). Now, with the opening of the massive Grand Front Osaka commercial, residential and entertainment complex on the north side of Osaka Station and to the west of Umeda Station, Osakans can indulge in their two favorite occupations simultaneously.
Even by Japan’s urban mega-development standards, Grand Front Osaka is spectacular. Occupying a former rail yard covering 3 hectares in the heart of western Japan’s most valuable real estate, the gigantic congregation of shops, cinemas, research and conference facilities, restaurants and bars is regarded by many as the litmus-test for the mercantile city’s 21st-century prosperity. So far so good, as the place is booming, not least its 95 — yes, count them — eateries and bars.
At the heart of Grand Front Osaka is the Knowledge Capital, the self-styled “intellectual entertainment arena” that occupies a large part of the North Building, and it is here that you’ll find three of the development’s most popular venues: Shunkoku Shunsai, the catchily named Kinki Daigaku Suisan Kenkyujo (Kinki University Fish Restaurant) and the Suntory Whisky House.
Cool bibliotheque-meets-bistro decor, a big-name chef, a 200-year-old olive tree shipped in from Andalusia and space-age vegetables: This Franco-Japanese-style “global medicinal-cooking” specialist is ticking all the boxes for the city’s fashionable and health-conscious, judging by the lunchtime queues.
Shunkoku Shunsai — its name translates literally as Seasonal Grains, Seasonal Vegetables — is a collaboration between noted Tokyo restaurateur Kiyomi Mikuni and pharmaceuticals giant Rohto. That might not sound appetizing, but in fact its amalgam of “healing cuisine” and light, butter-free French dishes is a winner.
Try to sample the octopus and feta cheese salad with okra and hazelnuts, and the superb fish dishes such as pan-fried sea bass, the former said to boost stamina during the hot summer months, the latter to work wonders for your immune system.
You can’t argue with the freshness of Shunkoku Shunsai’s veggies, as you can witness them being cultivated right next door at its City Farm six stories above the Osaka streets. The bright neon lights, barely audible hum and plants in incubator-like “ceramic cultivation” pods are straight out of a Stanley Kubrick film. None the less tasty for it, mind.
The weekday daily one-plate lunch is a steal at ¥1,155, with a more luxurious weekend one-plate lunch at ¥2,625. Evening dinner courses begin at ¥4,200.
Kinki Daigaku Suisan Kenkyujo
The head of a giant bluefin tuna sits in a large glass case, peering balefully at the white-clad technicians who swarm around outside. Yet these are not lab workers, but similarly attired sashimi-knife-wielding chefs, scurrying to meet the needs of scores of eagerly waiting diners. At the great bodiless creature’s side is its “graduation certificate.” We suspect it cares not.
Ever since the boffins at Kinki University became the first in the world to commercially rear bluefin tuna, their Kindai maguro has captured the Japanese public’s imagination, and now hungry natives are being wowed with its quality and, ever-paramount in this city, its affordability.
Topping the restaurant’s menu is the ¥2,800 Senbatsu Sengyo no Tsukurimono, a selection of the finest Kindai-bred fish served as sashimi. The generous spread includes madai (red sea bream), shima-aji (jackfish), buri (yellowtail) and of course maguro.
The restaurant is proud of the traceability of its fish, hence each maguro course is accompanied with the aforementioned certificate detailing where and when the fish was caught, and even what it had been fed that day.
Most of the fish are reared in Wakayama Prefecture, so it’s best to accompany this excellent sashimi with a Wakayama sake, such as Taiheiyo Junmai at ¥750 — or Wakayama’s plum liqueur, Nankobai, at ¥480.
Suntory Whisky House
The term “whisky bar” may conjure a cigar-smoke and testosterone-filled room full of pontificating old geezers with fat wallets and waistlines to match. Thankfully, the second-floor Suntory Whisky House is a far cry from this, a tastefully decorated, relaxing place with a gallery, a restaurant with a carefully chosen menu (Whisky Dining WWW.W), and some very fine hooch at reasonable prices.
Seichi Koshimizu, Suntory’s chief whisky blender, recommends Norway salmon marinated in dill (¥750) accompanied by a Hakushu citrus highball (¥580). The zensai moriawase plate of salami, ham, Camembert and rillettes is also good value for two at ¥1,350, as is the old Osaka favorite, a substantial katsu sando (pork cutlet sandwich) at ¥1,500.
If you really want to, you can blow ¥15,000 on a 17-year-aged bottle of Hakushu … And there’s a very swish VIP bar at the back.
And last but not least: On the sixth floor, not one restaurant but 16; Umekita Floor is a fun collection of inexpensive eateries based around a communal food court dining space. It’s a popular hangout among couples, groups of 20-something friends and the post-work crowd. Top eateries there include “poolside beer garden” BBQ33, with its barbecue beef, and pork-ribs specialist Bar-Ya Riblin. Uniquely for this part of Osaka, it stays open until 4 a.m.
www.umekita-floor.jp Grand Front Osaka is accessed from Osaka Station via the 2F connecting deck or B1F walkway. It is a five-minute walk at street level west of Umeda Station. 3-1 Ofuka-cho, Kita-ku, Osaka; 06-6372-6300; www.grandfront-osaka.jp Shops and Restaurants: www.gfo-sc.jp Knowledge Capital: www.kc-i.jp.