Food & Drink | OSAKA RESTAURANTS

Kunsei Lover Fumo: where food is better smoked

by J.J. O'Donoghue

Special To The Japan Times

At Kunsei Lover Fumo, smoking — of the food, that is — is so desirable that it appears twice in the name of the restaurant, first in Japanese (kunsei) and then in Italian (fumo).

The lover part should be self-explanatory.

Just about everything on the menu at Kunsei is smoked — the beer wasn’t, but there was room for a smoky highball. As the master put it, just as there’s more than one way to fillet a fish, smoking has its variations: cold smoking, hot smoking and smoke roasting, to name some of the most prominent methods.

I can’t claim to be able to taste the difference between them, other than to say that everything we tasted was steeped in that distinctive and transformative smoky flavor. Although it’s fun to eat so much smoked food in one sitting, sometimes it can be too much of a good thing.

Kunsei is located in Takatsuki, a city squeezed between Osaka and Kyoto, close by Hankyu Station down a quiet street near the main shopping arcade. There’s no shortage of places to eat and drink in Takatsuki, but much of what’s on offer is generic. In that regard Kunsei, which has been open since 2015, is a welcome diversion.

The best place to start is the house smoked platter (¥980), an assortment of tapas-size smoky morsels served on a black slate. It changes from week to week, but expect to find a few staples such as the smoked boiled eggs glazed with soy sauce, smoked bacon and smoked chikuwa fish cake stuffed with tuna. There’s enough on this plate to satisfy and delight, including the wafer-thin slices of Chinese radish (smoked) topped with Camembert cheese and the long strands of dried smoked squid. Sometimes, it felt like the smoking process didn’t have much to hang its coat on, as was the case with the smoked tarako (cod roe) on cucumber.

If it’s on the menu, make sure you get a serving of the fillets of stingray (yes, they’re smoked) served with the homemade un-smoked mayonnaise. This was the standout dish of the night — the smoky flavor had worked its way through the tough leathery chunks of ray. You’ll be tempted to lick first and then chew the fillets. I was tempted to order seconds, but saved myself to try more of the menu.

Before a plate of smoked gnocchi arrived, we made our way through the roast beef (first roasted, then smoked) and the duck (cooked likewise). By this stage everything we ate was beginning to taste vaguely similar, overwhelming the unique flavors inherent to the items.

Switching direction, we ordered a plate of smoked imo-kenpi served with a sweet chili sauce. In their non-smoky form, these hard candied sweet potato sticks are one of Kochi Prefecture’s most popular souvenirs. They were disappointing, however, and deserved to be put back in the packet and sent back to Shikoku.

Other than the Kochi chips, Kunsei seems to have most of its repertoire worked out, but it’s a menu that changes often, so you never know what new experiment in smoking you’ll find.

Lunch from 12-3 p.m., dinner from 5:30-11:30 p.m. (until 11:45 on Fri./Sat.); specials from ¥500; Japanese menu; some English spoken