What does one wear to an izakaya?
Since it’s a Japanese version of a gastropub, something casual might be in order.
However, if you’re visiting Mikaku, you could always invest in the blonde spiky wig (and pick up some of that mousetrap chewing gum, while you’re there) on sale at the institution that is Tam Shepherds Joke Shop, just next door.
Then you’d resemble Pris from Blade Runner (incidentally, that film was set in an imagined 2019).
The replicant look is perfect for this new-ish venture from the people behind the venue’s former incarnation, Ramen Dayo!, which still has a branch in Glasgow’s West End.
Their “dystopian aesthetic” has been inspired by the Shibuya side streets where you might find these bars. As well as an outside courtyard, there are neon lights, a Steampunk-esque cobbled-effect floor, and, ahem, Paula Abdul on the stereo.
As I’m flying solo, I’m happy about the high stools that fringe the bar, so I don’t have to sit at an empty table, reminiscing and guffawing with my hilarious and good-looking imaginary friends.
To fit the booze-based theme, I tried one of their cocktails. I should have stuck with something simple like beer or sake, since the ginger Zen (£6.95) cocktail with Roku gin, Ozeki sake, fresh ginger, lime and lemonade would have been nicer without the bloom of Sriracha sauce at the bottom of the glass.
It blurred all the subtler flavours and I could only bring myself to drink half.
Unlike an authentic izakaya, there is no otoshi – an entrance fee of sorts, which usually includes an appetiser of pickles.
I could have done with a little something sour, as the food here is burly. In fact, I drooled on the table a little bit, like when you wave a treat under a dog’s nose, when the kushi katsu arrived, with two pots of tangy tonkatsu sauce – one for the meat, another for the vegan stuff.
There’s a minimum order of three of these, so I’d chosen the pork with panko (£2) – a meaty lollipop in a sandy crust – as well as the lotus root (£1.50), resembling a bicycle chain set or a film reel.
Putting myself in a vegan’s boots, I also tried satisfying green fingers of okra (£1.25). All together, this collection was like the Japanese version of a munchy box.
My fun-sized miso black ramen (£4.50 for small, £9.50 for large) was the best thing. I like having the option of smaller bowlfuls, and this rich broth was a celebration of the stinky bulb, with an ashen black mayu burnt garlic oil, black ribbons of kikurage, spring onions, sesame seeds, crispy garlic chips, as well as feathery soft slices of chicken breast, springy golden noodles and a stiff cuff of nori.
Very comforting, and it would have been even better if I’d gone for a soft-yolked egg (£2) or aji-tama on top.
I wasn’t so keen on the bulgogi beef gyoza (£4.90 for three), as these frill-edged toasted pockets were rather thick and chewy with very dense beefy pellets rattling around in their middles, like stones in a sock.
The spinach goma-ae (£3.20) was probably my lightest dish, with a clump of blanched spinach topped with sesame seeds and oil, plus chilli threads like flower stamens.
At this point, I was getting the side eye from the only another solo diner, who was appreciative (I like to think) of my gastric capacity. Let’s really give her something to look at.
The waitress ran through their dessert options. There was a sort of green tea cake, and ice-cream (£3.90 for two scoops). What flavours? She listed some conventional ones. Then there was “avocado and peanut butter” and “ube keso”– a sweet potato and cheese ice-cream.
I’m going in.
Both looked purple under the neon lights, like something bio-engineered by the Tyrell Corporation, but they were pleasant, even the root veg vs. fromage combination, though I’m glad they’d gone light on the cheese.
People associate Japanese food with sophistication, but you won’t get any of that fancy business at Mikaku.
It offers dirtier grub, and it’s their ramen that makes it worth the visit (not, I’m afraid, Paula Abdul or even the opportunity to invest in some snappy chewing gum).