Address: 190 Jervois Rd, Herne Bay
Ph: (09) 378 0746
I was a little dubious when asked to review this restaurant, not being au fait with yakitori and unsure about what and how much to order. I needn't have worried.
On a cool Saturday evening, three of us were shown to a table near the kitchen window, where we could see what was going on with the griller. The helpful young waiter assured us that we would be fine and he would talk us through the options.
Taisho (which variously translates as "Great Leader" or "Great Righteousness", after Emperor Yoshihito) is not overwhelmingly Japanese in decor. Anything but, really. Red walls, plain wooden tables and chairs and little else. You're here for the food, not to be distracted by the furnishings, apparently.
We started with edamame beans, lightly steamed, and a dish of minced pork with spring onions, accompanied by iceberg lettuce leaves in which to wrap spoonfuls of the meat. So far, so straightforward, although the meat was a little greasy.
This was followed, at the waiter's suggestion, by a platter of raw fish, including cubes of tuna and salmon, thinly sliced snapper and scallops and a dipping sauce of light soy. Delicious, and still not too frightening.
Then came the skewers, grilled over Binchotan charcoal, prized by chefs because of its heat retention and lack of odour.
The garlic shoots wrapped in sliced pork were a knockout, as was the takoyaki - octopus chopped and cooked in batter in bite-sized pieces and served with a tangy sauce. These were so good that we ordered another round. Scallops wrapped in pork also went down a treat and the skewers of squid were tender and juicy. Cubes of sirloin steak were similarly well treated.
The gyo-za, pan-fried dumplings, were a standout, too, again requiring a repeat order, and a savoury pancake stuffed with seafood and vegetables received universal acclaim.
For those who are meat and/or fish-averse, there is a vegetarian selection at Taisho, but it has to be said that it does not look half as interesting as the other choices.
Taisho wouldn't be a Japanese restaurant without some sort of sushi, and there is a short selection available, as well as rice and noodle dishes and a few salads. But, of course, this is a yakitori bar and the focus is squarely here.
Takashi Tsuji, Taisho's owner and resident chef, has been in charge for three and a half years and has no plans to move. It's a nice neighbourhood, he says. It certainly is and Taisho is an excellent addition to the mainly European local dining options in Herne Bay.
Rating out of 10
Our meal: $239 for 14 shared plates, two beers, one bottle of wine plus three glasses
Wine list: Short and stock-standard. A wide selection of sake, as you might expect.
Verdict: A great place to start for those unsure about how to deal with yakitori. Helpful service, and great tasting food.