Thursday, August 17, 2017

A slice of Tokyo in Yaw Min Gyi

The first thing that strikes you about Menzo is its location. The restaurant is down a narrow lane off Bo Yar Nyunt steet in Yaw Min Gyi, making it reminiscent of little dining outlets in the small back alleys hidden from the bustling streets of Tokyo, behind the capital’s skyscrapers and multifarious vending machines.

The simple surrounds of Menzo. Photos: Nick BakerThe simple surrounds of Menzo. Photos: Nick Baker

Here in Yangon, the sensation is not all that different. The traffic congestion in Yaw Min Gyi can be overwhelming, particularly during rush hour. Diverting into an unassuming lane and entering a brightly-lit restaurant is a great escape from the honks of horns and motor engines.

I’d been told by some Japanese expatriates that Menzo’s yakitori (from K1000 to K1500) is the best in the city. They were not wrong. It was extremely impressive. The yakitori, skewering different types of meat with kushi (bamboo sticks) and grilling them with high heat, carries a fiery zest. This zest reflects the art of simple Japanese grilling at its best. Offering around 20 types, covering tebasaki (chicken wings), butakata (pork), prawns, tamanegi (onion) and ninnik (garlic). Menzo’s reputation is well-earned.

Their ramen noodles (from K6000 to K9000) also deserve commendation. Especially in Yangon where many Japanese venues try to pass off watery noodle soup as the treasured Japanese dish.

Menzo’s tonkotsu (pork-based) stock is unctuous and rich. On top of its thick milky white broth lies a layer of creamy pork fat. The pork shoulder encapsulates the rich pork marrow flavour. You have the option of choosing the amount of ingredients, such as black fungus, seaweed and eggs.

An upgrade from tonkotsu to kuro mayu is a pleasant surprise. Kuro mayu adds to its pork stock a smoky and fragrant flavour of black sesame and garlic oil. Consequently, the colour is much darker and strikes a stark contrast to tonkotsu’s milky shade. The taste is even richer and more stimulating. The garlic oil on the surface looks like black ink, leading one to imagine the unlimited possibilities of Japanese calligraphy shodō.

Gyoza and miso soup.Gyoza and miso soup.

Another Menzo delicacy is its gyoza (dumplings) between K2200 and K3500, which are sumptuous and fresh but not too oily. Avocado sashimi is nice addition, bringing with it a touch of greenery and healthy eating.

The service is professional. Waitresses are attentive. The restaurant presents Yangon a rare display of Western professionalism blended with Japanese hospitality (the employees always greet me with arigatōgozaimas repeatedly even after I have exited the door). Menzo’s parent company has operations across the region with different categories of dining options – this is probably the reason why the restaurant feels slightly commercial.

As with some other decent Japanese restaurants, it is a pity that Menzo does not have a dessert menu. No much-immortalised matcha mochi; no sesame ice cream. I am tempted to suggest that this is fatal to a dining experience, like a movie-goer anticipating the finale before realising that the curtain has fallen before the ending arrives. Just look at the popularity of green tea lattes in the likes of Lotteria and Chatime, and it won’t take long before another Japanese entrepreneur discovers the great potential of Japanese dessert in Myanmar. 

Japanese Ramen Menzo
19/A, Unit-15, Bo Yar Nyunt street, Dagon township

Restaurant Rating: 4/5 stars
Food: 9
Beverage: 6 
Service: 8
Value: 7
X-factor: 8