Is there ever a good time to be under a train? Well, yes. If it happens to be in Tottuan, which is directly under the loop line in Osaka. Every time a train rolls by you hear it, feel it — but not in a startling way — it’s just another part of the rhythm and ambience of a great little izakaya (Japanese pub).
When it comes to restaurant design there are at least two distinctive schools: glasnost, or openness and transparency, and its opposite. Tottuan in Fukushima — the gullet of Osaka — is firmly in the glasnost category. It’s a squat boxy restaurant with big windows that look out onto the street on one side, a snack bar at the entrance and a thoroughfare on the other side. Inside the glasnost theme continues; there’s no barrier between the kitchen and the diners, just everyone busy at work.
We started on the stools outside. Tottuan is busy throughout the night, but the waiting time generally isn’t too long — in our case, about 15 minutes. When we did get seats, they were at the counter and under the friendly eye of the young boss. My one criticism came from the moment we sat down; the stools are a bit too short for the counter. It’s only ever so slightly, but it’s a weird feeling, as if you’re a 5-year-old again.
Like at any izakaya you can have it all, but Tottuan’s strong points are fish and tempura. We started with sashimi: hammachi (yellow tail), sabakizushi (vinegared mackerel) and sanma (Pacific saury). Mackerel is a strong fish on its own and often times the addition of vinegar, no shrinking violet either, can overpower an already dominant force; this time the combination was utterly tender and delicious. The head cook passed out a complementary serving of uni (urchin), which was in turn passed on to my friend visiting from Germany. Omotenashi (hospitality) all round.
There were quite a few types of fish on Tottuan’s comprehensive menu, many of which were new to me. Our waiter ordered us up and we followed him to the door where, I hadn’t noticed on entering, but, there was an open fridge containing the catches of the day. To be honest, I was still none the wiser but we ordered anyway: itoyori and gure, both are types of bream, with white flesh, broiled and served with salt. Both were delicious.
From fish we went to the fryer, I took charge of ordering the tempura for four people. I ticked “three” for the quantity of each order. Before the tempura came we were relocated to a table in the corner, and a mountain of food followed. You live, you learn, you eat a lot of tempura. So much that two of my friends who are on diets were forced to give in and join the feast.
There are a few Tottuans scattered throughout Osaka, but the main restaurant is in Fukushima, Osaka’s glorious gullet. It’s only one stop from Osaka Station, but in Fukushima, especially at Tottuan, you get to see and eat it all.
7-1 OK 2 Avenue, Fukushima, Osaka; 06-6454-4649; open 5:30 p.m.- 11:00 p.m.; (closed Monday); nearest station JR Fukushima; dinner ¥2,000-¥3,000; Japanese menu, some English spoken; smoking OK.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5