Food & Drink

Calayer's curry slays with both flame and flavor

by Matt Kaufman

Contributing Writer

Ever since British sailors brought curry powder into the country at the start of the Meiji Era (1868-1912), curry rice has been one of the most popular dishes in Japan. There are thousands of curry restaurants throughout the country, but only one of them can claim to be a shrine to Slayer, the American thrash metal band known for songs like “Raining Blood” and “Seasons in the Abyss.”

Takahiro Kubo, 47, a former television director who dreamed of owning his own restaurant since childhood, opened Calayer in the Minamisenba area of Osaka in 2013, just a short stroll away from the Hard Rock Cafe. Kubo, who also plays drums in a hard rock group called Daughter, decided to name his restaurant Calayer after he noticed the Japanese word for curry shop, kareya, sounded a bit like Slayer, the name of his favorite band.

When Calayer first opened, Kubo prepared more traditional Indian and Sri Lankan-style curries, but always had a strong desire to push the boundaries of flavor. He began experimenting with dashi stock and a variety of spices, herbs, seasonal vegetables and slow-boiled meats.

According to Kubo, kelp and bonito bring out the umami flavor in his signature “heavy metal” curries, and his propensity to come up with new recipes and variations of old favorites means that the menu changes on a daily basis. He serves four types of curry rice dishes daily, split evenly between meat and vegetable selections (¥780 each).

The best deal is the Calayer Special Dish (¥980), which gives you two types of curry and two toppings over 200 grams of rice. The vegetable curry set (¥930) offers two types of curry, both made with mushroom and kelp dashi, that are 100 percent vegetarian and vegan-friendly.

Deal of the day: The Calayer Special Dish comes with two curries and two toppings over 200 grams of rice.
Deal of the day: The Calayer Special Dish comes with two curries and two toppings over 200 grams of rice. | ROSS RANDLES

There are three basic levels of spiciness, but a fourth option exists for the brave souls who like their curry extremely hot: Angel of Death, named after one of Slayer’s most popular songs. First-timers should read the disclaimer — “Do you wanna die?” — carefully before ordering.

Each spoonful of this ultraspicy, but delicious, curry feels like ingesting pure molten lava, so be sure to have plenty of water on hand to douse the flames. It’s a lot of fun to try at least once, especially if you go with friends, but I recommend starting with the “standard” or “hot” options to better appreciate how Kubo expertly balances the flavors and textures of his curries so that no one ingredient overwhelms the taste buds.

Heavy metal chef: Takahiro Kubo named his restaurant Calayer because it sounds like Slayer, his favorite metal band.
Heavy metal chef: Takahiro Kubo named his restaurant Calayer because it sounds like Slayer, his favorite metal band. | ROSS RANDLES

I decide to go all-out and order the Big 4 Dish (¥1,500). The set is a tribute to the “Big Four” thrash metal bands: Anthrax, Megadeth, Metallica and, of course, Slayer. It comes with all four curries of the day, rice, two toppings, a salad and a Calayer sticker. That day, the curries were chicken in kelp soup, minced pork and beef, white radish with deep-fried tofu, and spinach potage, topped with spicy dried baby sardines, chickpeas and salted onions with spices and yogurt. I am so full after this meal that I barely manage to eat anything else for the rest of the day.

Calayer has become a popular destination for heavy metal fans and musicians in Kansai. Where else can you enjoy a meal and a cold beer while listening to Slayer in the background? Bands often drop in while on tour, such as Osaka metal queens Valkyrie, King Parrot from Australia and Vastusta from Finland. Although Slayer has yet to visit the restaurant, in 2015, guitarist Kerry King was presented with a Calayer T-shirt backstage after a show in Osaka.

This local favorite is only open for lunch, so try to arrive early because the curries often sell out toward closing time.

Bakuromachi 3-4-9, Chuo-ku, Osaka 541-0059; 06-7171-4138; calayer.web.fc2.com; Mon.-Sat. 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; closed Sun.; closest stations Shinsaibashi and Honmachi; English menu