The finer flavors of Fukuoka
Bordered by the sea, the Hakata district of Fukuoka is renowned for its incredibly delicious seafood and hot pot dishes. Join Savor Japan as we visit some of Hakata's best dining destinations.
- 7-14 Tsunabamachi, Hakata-ku, Fukuoka-shi, Fukuoka
- Weekdays, Saturdays and day before holidays
5:00 pm – last order 11:30 pm
5:00 pm – last order 10:30 pm
"Using fresh offal is essential," owner Matsuo explains. The popularity of his motsu (offal), dipped in a refreshing vinegared soy sauce, is a testament to its freshness since it spoils in one day. The nabe is so delicious that some customers eat the entire dish all alone even though it can satisfy three. Motsukou's claim to fame is being the first restaurant to serve gyoza wrappers in motsunabe, a common practice now.
Single customers, couples and families alike fill the first-floor counter and Japanese-style rooms on the upper two floors. A queue forms every day before the 5 pm opening.
The motsu (offal) includes small intestines, tripe, reed tripe and heart. The chicken broth is prepared in a mizutaki (Fukuoka hot pot) style.
The nabe is finished with chanpon noodles and heaps of ground sesame seeds that intensify the flavor.
Restaurant staff skillfully adjust the flames and prepare the nabe at your table.
The long-established restaurant founded by Mr. and Mrs. Matsuo is operated by their son Kazuhide.
Renowned original motsunabe
An undisputed Hakata specialty, motsunabe (offal hotpot) is a favorite amongst the hardworking folk of Hakata. If you say the name Motsukou to any local taxi driver, he or she will likely know the location of this popular restaurant.
Motsukou was established by a married couple in 1978. Unlike most restaurants that serve motsunabe in a soy sauce- or salt-based soup, Motsukou uses an original chicken broth and guests dip morsels in homemade vinegared soy sauce. This recipe was introduced as a Nakasu-style appetizer meant to accompany alcohol. But the refreshing taste became so popular that Motsukou built its business around it and became a specialty restaurant. Almost 40 years later, the original flavor hasn't faded at the hands of second-generation proprietor Kazuhide Matsuo.
"The offal arrive every day around noon, and we prepare them without delay because freshness is important. We start preparing the chicken broth at 10 am. It takes time, but our lengthy process improves the flavor," he claims.
This passionate pursuit of freshness and flavor is what makes Motsukou so special. Guests also enjoy the gooey gyoza wrappers and optional filled gyoza floating in the pot. When they nearly finish the dish, chanpon noodles are mixed with the thick, boiled-down leftover soup and smothered in ground sesame. It's a one-of-a-kind masterpiece worth experiencing at least once.
Sushi Gyoten鮨 行天
- 1F, Inoue Building, 1-2-12 Hirao, Chuo-ku, Fukuoka-shi, Fukuoka
- 6:00 pm – 11:00 pm
The omakase (chef's choice) course dinner is a culinary masterpiece consisting of sashimi, nigiri sushi and appetizers. Exemplifying the skilled intricacy of Gyoten's work, the tai (seabream) sashimi from Akashi is sliced in three different thicknesses so that each creates a slightly different impression as the customer proceeds through the meal.
Born into a family that ran sushi shops for generations, Gyoten went abroad to find his own path. In the end, while still young, his path led to training at top sushi restaurants in Tokyo and the establishment of Sushi Gyoten.
Hon-maguro (bluefin tuna) from Aomori Prefecture. "The best tasting tuna is junior or high-school age, with a good appetite," says chef Gyoten.
The sayori (halfbeak) isn't vinegared. It's dipped in vinegar and salt for less than a second, which is more like a light coating.
The interior has the simplicity and aesthetics of a tea ceremony room, with counter seating for ten customers.
Chef Gyoten visits the market every morning to select the seafood. He trusts his own expert eyes more than tradition or trends.
Kenji Gyoten prepares sushi with the intensity of a master iai swordsman. He measures every pause and waits for exactly the right moment to casually serve each morsel. Once served, the rice silently begins sinking from its own weight. When you place the sushi in your mouth, the shari (rice) and neta (topping) blend into one another, a profound delight to the palate. This superb melting effect is a reason why Sushi Gyoten was named one of two 3-star restaurants in the Michelin Guide Fukuoka Saga 2014 edition.
Having trained at the finest restaurants, Kenji Gyoten is particular about every aspect of his work from the origin of his fish, rice and vinegar to the quality of his utensils. There are no compromises at Sushi Gyoten. When asked about his life, he confesses with a swift cut to the heart of the matter, "I failed in the past and must manage the shop within my means. While my personal life has little to do with my customers, I put my heart into the sushi for their benefit and it shows in the results."
Gyoten responds to questions as if answering a Zen mondo (riddle). He seems to be saying that great sushi is something you sense without thinking. The sushi speaks for itself and all else is vain. His standards are quite demanding and he never chooses the easy way. The resulting exquisite taste fully explains the growing acclaim of his sushi shop in Fukuoka.
Hakata Ajidokoro Iroha博多味処いろは
- Iroha Building, 14-27 Kamikawabata-machi, Hakata-ku, Fukuoka-shi, Fukuoka
- Tuesdays to Saturdays, holidays and day before holidays
6:00 pm – last order 10:00 pm
6:00 pm – last order 9:00 pm
Most restaurants add hakusai (Chinese cabbage) that thins the soup and shungiku (garland chrysanthemum) that overpowers the chicken broth aroma. Hakata Ajidokoro Iroha instead uses cabbage and spinach to enhance the flavor. The soup recipe is a secret, but the tart homemade dipping sauce is made from Japanese citrus and soy sauce.
The milky white mizutaki broth made from chicken on the bone is a secret family recipe. Hakata Ajidokoro Iroha serves it with homemade ponzu (citrus soy sauce).
Takashi Harada, the fourth-generation owner, tests today's soup — part of a time-proven process he repeats every day.
Homemade karashi mentaiko (spicy cod roe) is mildly hot and seasoned with sake. The perfect appetizer.
Celebrity autographs plaster the first floor walls. There are three floors with large halls and private rooms.
A pre-meal sample of the chicken broth will convince you this restaurant is serious about mizutaki.
Mizutaki condensed to perfection
First comes the soup. A staff member assigned to your table adds leeks, a dash of salt and yuzu pepper, then serves you a sample for tasting. The rich flavor of chicken slowly spreads through your mouth and the soup warms your tummy. You are swiftly convinced of the restaurant's quality.
"Red Fumoto chicken from Saga Prefecture has a strong flavor and light smell," fourth-generation owner Takashi Harada tells us. "Its meat superbly matches our mizutaki recipe and stays together while simmering, but easily comes off the bone."
The skin is chewy and the fat is flavorful. About 5 years ago, for various reasons, the shop had to change its chicken breed. After trying many breeds, chef Harada finally decided on the Red Fumoto he's so fond of. He prepares the mizutaki broth every morning by simmering and carefully skimming the surface for 5 to 6 hours until it matches the restaurant's long-established flavor.
"This is the only mizutaki flavor I know," he laughs, "because I took over the business at a very young age when my father was ill." This may partially explain why he never wavered in maintaining the restaurant's original flavor. Hakata Ajidokoro Iroha has been in business since 1953 and the taste of its mizutaki has been popular all these years.
In the mizutaki course, you can thoroughly enjoy great chicken not only simmered on the bone in delicious broth, but also as minced chicken-leg meat balls. The broth-simmered cabbage and final dish of rice porridge with fluffy eggs are also delicious. It's a satisfying culinary experience that thrills with every bite.
La Maison de la Nature GohLa Maison de la Nature Goh
- 2-26 Nishinakasu, Chuo-ku, Fukuoka-shi, Fukuoka
- 6:00 pm – 12:00 am
"I recommend the \6,000 course for first timers," says owner Fukuyama, who takes pride in providing a fine French course with seasonal ingredients at a remarkably reasonable price. "If you enjoy it enough to come again," he adds," then by all means splurge on the 8,000 yen course for a very special occasion."
"The experience at the wine bar inspired me to change my cooking. Instead of making French cuisine that attracts attention, I started making French cuisine that people like eating," he tells us. The leftovers that inspired his dramatic transformation deserve a big round of applause.
The shop's signature hors d'oeuvre, turnip blancmange with snow crab and sea urchin gelée (ingredients vary by season).
The restaurant comfortably seats 34 guests, having been enlarged from its original 18 counter and table seat capacity in October 2010.
Wild boar lightly smoked with straw. The straw and mandarin oranges, both harvested in Yame, perfectly complement the earthy flavor.
The Bordeaux wines selected by the talented sommelier are full-bodied, distinctive and easy to drink.
Authentic and affordable
"Some time ago, I switched my focus from making food I want to eat to making food my customers want to eat. I was tired of seeing leftovers on the plates and wanted everything to be eaten," laughs Takeshi Fukuyama, owner chef of Nishinakasu's hottest and always fully booked French restaurant La Maison de la Nature Goh. His grinning face and bulky, but energetic body, draws smiles from guests throughout the restaurant.
The Nishinakasu area was once renowned for ryotei restaurants and drinking establishments. But La Maison de la Nature Goh transformed the area into a sophisticated culinary destination.
After honing his skills at renowned Ile de France in Fukuoka, Fukuyama learned to entertain guests as the chef at a small wine bar. These combined experiences gave him a strong desire to prepare food that makes guests happy.
"When I launched this restaurant 13 years ago," Fukuyama reveals, "I didn't have a clue what to serve or charge. There were no restaurants in this neighborhood at the time to compare with. So I decided to offer good tasting French cuisine at a reasonable price. That's how the concept of a 6,000 yen, 6-dish omakase (chef's choice) course dinner was born".
While Fukuyama's French cuisine is absolutely authentic, he can offer a low price because the menu is limited to a single chef's choice course. The restaurant swiftly became popular through word of mouth and has been fully booked since its opening week.
- 1F, STAGE 1 Nishinakasu, 2-25 Nishinakasu, Chuo-ku, Fukuoka-shi, Fukuoka
- 5:30 pm – last order 10:00 pm
Bar until 1:00 am
The maître d'hôtel adeptly describes each dish to stimulate your appetite and imagination. With each exquisite bite and waft of aroma, you must suppress a shout of joy.
Vegetables, vivid flavors and ever-changing presentations characterize chef Takayoshi Tezuka's cuisine, which is never listed in a menu.
Yellow potato gnocchis, served as amuse-bouches. The maître d'hôtel explains each dish.
Black abalone from Hirado, Nagasaki with cauliflower sauce and endive slice accents.
Customers can order apéritifs and digestifs or spend the entire evening in the wine bar.
Chef Tezuka visits farms to personally choose many of the ingredients for his simple, aromatic cuisine.
Ultimate comfort and flavor
Grande Maison Raisin d'Or restaurant, within an elegant building in the upmarket district of Nishinakasu, does not have a menu. Instead, every dish and wine is selected by the chef.
As you walk from the entrance to your seat, you may note that the kitchen and wine cellar are hidden from view. "The layout is organized from the perspective of a maître d'hôtel," says owner and sommelier Hideki Ishii, who previously managed a restaurant at Hotel Nikko Fukuoka. "From the moment customers take their seats, we want them to wonder about what will come next."
Tables are carefully arranged throughout the open space so that guests aren't staring into the eyes of their neighbors or bothering them with conversation. Once seated, you quickly relax because the refined seating from contemporary furniture maker Arflex is somewhat low and extremely comfortable. Wine glasses, cutlery and every item you touch is made by a prestigious brand. When you don't recognize the brand, you will still recognize its quality.
Chef Takayoshi Tezuka shares Ishii's passion. He honed his skills through experience at highly rated restaurants including Le Bourguignon in Nishi Azabu, Jardin des Sens and Alexandre in France. Even the aromas of his dishes are carefully planned and change on a daily basis. Like all staff at Raisin d'Or, he is dedicated to providing an enjoyable experience of the highest quality.
*Articles are written based on information available at the time of publication.More restaurants