The thought of catching your dinner before you eat might sound a bit like hard work. But for a truly unique, and crazily Japanese experience, there’s a lively restaurant where you catch it, cook it and eat it.
Zauo is a Tokyo izakaya with a difference. This ‘restaurant’ is the shape of a large wooden boat, with diners placed on chunky benches all along the port and starboard sides. A sea pool surrounds the boat, and it’s from there that you can catch your dinner.
A couple of floors up in the same building that houses Shinjuku’s Washington Hotel, it seems an unlikely location for a spot of fishing. But what is about to be the freshest sashimi in Tokyo is waiting to be hooked.
I took my friends who were visiting in December for some authentic Japanese cuisine served with a touch of the bizarre. Our set menu for four people came in at 12,500円 and provided a seemingly endless offering of dishes; tempura, tsukemono, sushi, karaage, tiger prawns, omelette, salad, rice…
Along with our dinner we received two fishing tickets each, as well as two fishing rods and some bait shrimps. The waitress explained that we could fish as much as we wanted. Every fish that bit our line would have to be bought. A big fish would use up five of our tickets. The remaining three could be put towards another large fish and we would have to pay for the rest of it. Any other fish would have to be paid for, at around 2,000円 each.
The shoal is made mostly of a fish which is called 伊佐木 (いさき/Isaki) in Japanese. The English name – Grunter – sounds far less appetising but is no reflection of the fish’s delicious taste. There are also mackerel, lobsters, flounder, hardtail and a number of unidentifiable shelled things from the depths.
Fish started nibbling as soon as our lines were cast and before long me and my friend had both caught fish. The other diners let out a cheer and there were cries of omedetou as we wrestled our catches from the pool with nets. The waitress quickly took our fish and offered to return them either fried, grilled or as sashimi.
We chose sashimi for our first fish. The tasty Grunter was fantastic, but quickly became a guilty pleasure – and a little hard to enjoy – as we watched its body still moving beside the display of flesh! Our second was fried and tasted entirely guilt free.
Buoyed by his fishing success, my friend went for a stroke of the manager’s pet shark. The shark protested and thrashed around belly up. I’d recommend not killing the manager’s pet as this will probably be frowned upon.
The night we visited Zauo was particularly lively with a few companies celebrating bonenkais, but I suspect the atmosphere is fun any night. If you fancy trying your luck on the line you can find out more on the Zauo website. There are occasional discount coupons on Hot Pepper so time it right and you’ll get a bargain… happy fishing!