Izakaya Chuji proudly proclaims its establishment in 1989 and wears that year like a nametag. Located on Lonsdale St at the corner of Russell St, its convenient location made it the prime anti-pasta night dining spot for us college students. Back then, I didn’t even know the meaning of Izakaya, and I was here only for the reasonably priced bento boxes or ramen.
My life has certainly progressed over the past decade, but on my last visit, I swear that I had previously encoutnered that soy stain on the seat 8 years ago. There’s no denying that the tables and chairs here are highly experienced and worn down by customer use over the years. Perhaps it is time for the owners to consider sprucing this place up a little. Chuji has sprouted a second restaurant along Clarendon St, so if you are inclined to avoid a younger, noiser Asian crowd, this should be your choice.
To the left of the entrance is the bar Nihonshu (literally translated to Japanese wine) which boasts sake, sochu and beers. While I gave it a miss on this occassion, it had sufficient appeal for me to want to check it out in future. We sat down for some takowasabi (octopus sashimi wasabi) which was fresh with a springy texture and the wasabi was light enough to awaken the palate. We had some gyoza (a little plain) and gyutan shioyaki (grilled ox tongue slices, yum!) as well, then washed it down with Suntory Premium ($12 per can, Ouch?!).
The tempura combination was nice, the batter was crisp and light, without the hanging of residual oil, and of a light yellow colour. A pity that for $18.80, you are left wondering how expensive tempura is getting because there are only a few pieces of vegetable, and 2 prawns. But the tempura worked a treat with the Izakaya Ramen ($15) that I ordered, tasty wheat noodles with pork and vegetables in the soy soup stock. The Tsukimi Udon ($11.80) was also enjoyable with the thicker noodles and the raw egg which you had to break/whip/stir into the soup for that added touch of joy.
My thoughts on Chuji: I think the place is too grey and run down after so many years. Some places can pull off old by maintaining a touch of rustic, Chuji is simply old and weary . The service definitely needs improvement. We stood at the door for approximately 5-waitresses-walking-by long, and no one approached us until I started wandering down towards the empty table (which turned out to be the table reserved for us anyway). Also, while I can appreciate that this is a Japanese restaurant, I would like my service staff to be able to converse in more than minimal English. Finally, I think the menu is over-priced considering the average but acceptable quality of food, and also taking into consideration the overall atmosphere or the lack thereof.