Szechuan Yakitori and cocktail infusions at an eclectic Japanese bar
The hype: A skewer concept marrying Szechuan Mala and Japanese Yakitori, Chikin by Coterie Dining Concepts was first conceptualized when its founders went to Chengdu, China. They tried streetside shao kao (Chinese barbeque), fell in love, and decided to bring home the simple, smoky taste in a novel way—Szechuan Yakitori.
The vibe: Fresh, young and effortlessly cool, the yakitori and cocktails bar is less intimidating than it might seem from the outside. The neon lights and wall-to-ceiling murals of '80s Japanese pop art—not to mention the bar’s prime location in the Outram Park area—give the place instant street cred; yet the friendly staff and Top 40s sounding through the speakers make Chikin relaxed, casual, and anything but chi-chi.
The food: Dominating the menu are the 13 varieties of chicken skewers, each a creatively re-imagined part of a whole chicken. In Japanese Yakitori style, the skewers are grilled over Binchotan flames, then coated with signature Szechuan peppercorn (or “mala”) sauce instead of the traditional Japanese tare sauce.
Here, the Bonjiri Chikin Tail ($3.50), cheekily referred to amongst the staff as the butt, is an easy fan favorite. It’s the same pop-in-your-mouth ease of sinful popcorn chicken, but elevated with a generous mala kick. Be warned that one stick will most certainly not be enough. The Torikawa Chikin Skin ($3) and Momo Chikin Thigh ($3) hit all the right spots for anyone craving a deep-fried skewer; but the cartilage, Yangen ($4), wins for its strong mala tang and good crunch through the soft bones. Order a tasting platter of 10 Yakitori for $35, or 15 for $45.
Of the regular Kushiyaki (meat and vegetable skewer) options, go for the Iberico Pork Collar with Leek ($6) and juicy San Marzano Tomatoes ($4), if you're tired of chicken.
For a more well-rounded meal, a range of Izakaya-style (a type of Japanese gastropub) dishes are on offer too. The Thinly Sliced Salmon Cartilage in Spicy Sauces ($10) is a cold dish that, fair warning, begs an acquired taste—but is worth a try in our books. With a texture like that of octopus, it tastes like pickled vegetables at the start, and ends in a strong fishy aftertaste that’s strangely addictive. Another star dish is the Unagi Garlic Fried Rice with Fish Roe ($16), a fragrant bowl tightly packed with the flavor of grilled eel and garlic.
The drinks: As a cocktail bar, Chikin doesn’t disappoint, boasting up to 20 different cocktail infusions and off-the-bar creations. Light drinkers will like the Lychee Sake-Tini ($19) and Dozo Mango ($19)—refreshing sake infusions made sweeter by their respective fruits. Shiso my Mojo ($19) is a martini-inspired classic with a fruity Japanese twist courtesy of the yuzu. And for the whisky fans, try the Sumoki Raisin ($19), a heavier concoction of whisky, sherry, raisins and smoked apple wood chips. Still, our vote goes to the Sake Sangria ($19), a light and fruity white wine sangria you can drink easily through the night.
Why you’ll be back: It’s a surprisingly laidback atmosphere, with a straightforward menu of fun cocktails, imaginative skewers and Japanese favorites—all at nett prices. Whether or not you’re in the area, Chikin makes for an ideal after-work hang that’s unique yet unpretentious. Did we mention there's a room for karaoke?