A few years back I spent an insufferable summer in an insufferable apartment (in a room as big as a shoebox), which I would rather forget than remember, in Juso, which is just beside the Yodo River in Osaka. Luckily, I found La Tepparnya, an izakaya that became my surrogate home. With good timing, I returned after a long absence to find it celebrating its six-year anniversary.
There is a frenetic, Falstaffian energy to Juso that works its way into La Tepparnya. It was much like I remembered; convivial and busy, with its mix of regulars and those-in-the-know, because much on the menu was marked down for the anniversary celebration. The chefs still cycle to work, their racing bikes posing outside the window. Inside not much has changed either: Toulouse-Lautrec posters, empty wine bottles and cans of tomato adorn the shelves and walls in a manner that belies the consideration of their placement.
The menu mixes Spanish and Italian influences with izakaya favorites. The tapas you get shortly after your drinks, which comes whether you want it or not, featured eggplant, a chicken wing and tamago-yaki (sweet omelet), a nice marriage of colors and textures. Pizza dough is rolled out and made up on the giant hot plate before heading to the oven; an extra addition of fire comes by way of the blowtorch. These guys like to play around, and not just with fire. Witness the edamame: This izakaya staple was given the ajillo treatment, doused in olive oil and garlic, although a little more salt would have helped add more flavor.
The chefs at Tepparnya make good use of the teppan, the hot plate that dominates the kitchen counter, and so should you. We had a rump of tender beef steak served on a chopping board with Dijon mustard, a pinch of salt and pepper and a few slices of dried fig, which brought a sweetness to the fray. Result: delicious. Similarly, the addition of cheddar cheese, fried and hardened on the hot plate and added to the caesar salad, was a nice update on a formulaic dish. So too were the shavings of Spanish ham.
Fish courses, while not as numerous on the menu as meat, usually get the carpaccio treatment. The thickly sliced hamachi (yellowtail) certainly wasn’t as fresh as the salmon I have had, or at least as fresh as I remember.
The food at La Tepparnya is filling and the portions are generous: This is men cooking for men. Because of the anniversary celebrations we only had two hours, so for dessert I had pork steak with wedges of fried potato in a tomato and garlic sauce. After that there was neither room nor time left, which was a pity, because I would have liked to have got round the menu some more. But La Tepparnya is as good as I remember, and definitely one of the better izakaya, so if you are in Juso, do stop in. Or better yet, cycle there.
2-11-7 Juso Higashi, Yodogawa-ku, Osaka; 06-6303-1088; open daily for dinner only; nearest station Juso; smoking OK; ¥2,000-3,000 per head (plus drinks); Japanese menu; no English spoken. JJ O’Donoghue is an Irish writer living in Kyoto.