Located in the corner of the basement of the Tokyo Hotel is a very fine yakitori restaurant called SEO 瀬尾, cosy and lively, different from the rest of the hotel.
The Art of Yakitori
Of Japanese meat consumption, chicken makes up around 30%. But it was not until they were brought in during the Nara Period (710-794 AD). The first birds were probably arrivals from China, examples of the kashiwa yellow chicken. Chicken still goes by that name in Kansai, whereas in Kanto it was, until recently, commonly called shamo.
Yakitori is about chicken, all parts of it. A skilful chef can take 33 useful parts from a single chicken, each having a different profile. Hours before the opening of the yakitori restaurant, chefs spend all that time trimming and cutting a chicken into the individual parts and then skewer them into each length of goodness.
Diners request their skewers salted (plain) or marinated in tare, a mix of soy sauce, sake, and mirin (sweet rice wine). The whole idea seems like a simple idea and even simpler recipe, which is just cutting and grilling meat on a skewer. But when you actually do it, the meat can easily gets hard or being burned by a small mistake of adjusting flame.
Timing is everything, but the real secret to great yakitori lies in the charcoal. SEO uses white bincho-tan charcoal from Japan’s Wakayama prefecture. Made from ubame oak, it is relatively smokeless–optimal for yakitori–because it burns longer and at a lower temperature than traditional charcoal.
瀬尾コース SEO Course
SEO offers three courses and ala carte choices. The easiest (most economical) is to order a course and let the chef decides what to pair for your enjoyment for that evening. We picked the middle choice (¥6,800) that came with:
- 御新香 Japanese Pickles
- 前菜2種／五菜サラダ 2 types of appetisers / 5 different types of amuse bouche
- おすすめ串焼き8本 selected 8 kinds of skewers
- お食事（3種の中から1品）one main course (select one from three choices) with soup
- 水菓子 dessert
御新香 Japanese Pickles
Delightful start to the dinner. Not overpowering in vinegar or salt, you can still taste the crisp and freshness of the vegetables used.
前菜2種 2 Types of Appetisers
1/ 五菜サラダ 5 types of amuse bouche
5 different amuse bouche were offered – smoked duck, baby corn, mushroom gelee, sweet potato and dried apple.
2/ 茶碗蒸 chawanmushi
And before we started on the yakitori, we were presented with a chicken chawanmushi. We have yet to eat a really bad chawanmushi in Japan. Luckily this was not the night that is going to become true. Maybe because of the amount of chicken bones they can get, the stock used has a great sweet chicken taste to it.
おすすめ串焼き8本 selected 8 kinds of skewers
1/ せせり（Seserl）Chicken Neck
Some people don’t like the chicken neck (せせりseseri) because of its sinewy texture. This cut is quite rare because so little is available from one chicken, this is only the second time I had it in Japan. The more you chewed on it, the better it tasted as the delicate flavours started to come out.
2/ かしわ (Kashiwa) Chicken Thigh
There are 4 cuts just with what we refer to as chicken thigh. Kashiwa is standard thigh meat, oyadoriis taken from a mature chicken, and obi is the tender outer thigh. Soriresu, or chicken oyster, is a hearty medallion of inner thigh and groin. The word “soriresu,” incidentally, is from the French term Sot-l’y-laisse, meaning “the fool leaves it there”
Daikon oroshi means grated daikon radish in Japanese. It has a refreshing spicy taste along with a mild sweetness. You can find it often accompanying grilled fish dishes or yakitori, as they are commonly eaten together. Daikon oroshi is a condiment, so it is not eaten on its own. It is either eaten with the main dish or it’s mixed in with other seasonings.
3/ つくね（Tsukune）Chicken Meatballs
つくね Tsukune is a grilled chicken mince which mixed both the breast and thigh meat. The shape is different depending on teh chef. There are roughly 2 types of shape. One is balled shape, and the other one is putting on a thick skewer directly which is how SEO does it. Meat around the neck is mainly used, but sometimes gristle is added to the meat in order to make the texture crunchy. This dish is usually a signature of each yakitori shop’s character.
4/ アスパラ asparagus
5/ 砂肝 (Suna-Gimo) Chicken Gizzard
The official name is Kin-i. It is two raised muscles outside of stomach wall among two stomachs of a chicken, called kin-i. It has light taste, no smell, and crunchy texture when you bite.
6/ さび焼き（Sabi-Yaki）White Breast Meat with Wasabi
It is finest meat on the chicken breast part. Soft, fatless, and rich in protein same as chicken breast. Usually grilled to medium rare and eaten with wasabi, grated radish and plum paste, it is popular and unique to Japan.
7/ 茄子 (Nasu) eggplant
8/ 手羽先 (Teba-Saki) Chicken Wings with Bones
It is a wing part of chicken. Can be divided into three parts, Tebamoto (root), Tebanaka (middle) and Tebasaki (drumette). Known for high collagen content, thus attracting attention especially among women in recent years.
ハツ（Hatsu）Chicken Heart / 血肝 (Chì-Gimo) Liver
Chicken heart (レバー hatsu) contains a lot of vitamins and iron. It is very difficult to get the hatsu right – firstly the fats were removed and grilling needed to be perfectly timed so that the original elastic texture it retained. And I have yet to find it done properly in Singapore; perhaps it’s the chicken, perhaps it’s the chef.
Chicken liver (レバー leba) comes in two types – the 血肝 chi-gimo which is the common one that we usually get and 白肝 shiro-gimo which is rarely rare part of the chicken and tastes like foie gras for all the fats. Fresh liver tastes better, and eating it rare is real gourmet. It is very nutritious part as containing a lot of iron and vitamin A, thus it has an effect on anemia prevention. This is also a cut popular among women.
银杏 (Ginnan) gingko nuts
Gingko nut green in colour is referred to as ginnan and I can only find them in green in Japan. Bitter when raw, but grilling takes away the bitterness. It is grilled with the skin still intact and skilfully removed when done using a quick action of rubbing them off with the bare hand while the nuts are hot. Ouch.
お食事 Main Course
There are three choices. Luckily we have three persons for dinner.
1/ そばろ井 minced chicken donburi
2/ 焼鳥井 teriyaki chicken donburi
3/ 鳥皮まよし井 donburi rice with crispy chicken skin
杏仁豆腐 almond pudding
Finally, the dessert was my favourite – the almond pudding (杏仁豆腐 annin-dofu). And to add to the sweetness, a dash of caramel.
Yakitori at its finest. The menu changes on the whim of the chef. The service is attentive and helpful but without a good command of English. Luckily there’s the English menu. The wine list does not disappoint.
Yakitori SEO 焼鳥 瀬尾
1-9-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, 100-0005, Japan
東京ステーションホテル 〒100-0005 東京都千代田区丸の内1-9-1
Tel : 03-6273-4458
Date Visited : Nov 2019