Robatayaki, meaning fireside grilling, in its humble beginnings was a way to cook onboard boats and in the outdoors. It is now often found in high-end restaurants. A Japanese robatayaki restaurant is not your run-of-the-mill izakaya or a simple barbecue. Think intimate counter-style dining, a bit like kappo.
As with kappo cuisine, there is often an option for a set menu; however, in Japanese robatayaki, you can also choose from a fresh selection of ingredients and have the experience of the chef flame-grilling your meal right in front of you.
What Is Robatayaki?
Robatayaki was invented by Japanese fishermen, as a means of preparing food during their long days at sea. The robata was designed to be able to prepare the coals during daylight and to be able to cook on the boat. Often, in Japanese robatayaki restaurants, you are served over-the-counter on a long wooden paddle. This is reminiscent of this bygone era when fishermen would use their oars to serve the fish.
The art form has evolved, and preparing the binchotan, which is the white smokeless charcoal used in this style of cooking, is itself a skill. These highly-trained chefs know exactly how to create and maintain different heat zones on the robatayaki grill and this allows for a wide variety of meats to be prepared. The immensely popular robatayaki chicken is an example of this evolved use of robatayaki-style cooking.
Where To Eat Robatayaki
If you are intrigued and want to try robatayaki in Japan, we have curated a list of some great places for you to dine.
Robatayaki in Tokyo
There are three top picks in the capital:
This restaurant is open daily for dinner, and a typical meal will cost between ¥5,000 - ¥5,999. There are lots of vegetarian and pescatarian options available, so it is a great choice for anyone with dietary restrictions. Here's what you can expect:
Enjoy robatayaki in a 150-year-old traditional Japanese building. This is a great option for groups to experience robatayaki together as this venue has multiple robata grills. Sanrokuen is open for lunch and dinner every day except Wednesdays, and a meal will cost on average between ¥2,000 to ¥2,999. More information about Sanrokuen.
Robata Musashi Shinbashi
Robata Musashi Shinbashi is a real bargain. With dishes ranging from ¥300 upwards, you can expect to pay around ¥2,000 for a light dinner. Robata Musashi Shinbashi is open Monday to Saturday for evening meals. More information about Robata Musashi Shinbashi.
Robatayaki in Osaka
We have two recommendations for robatayaki in Osaka:
Isaribi receives great reviews. It can be a bit tricky to find, just remember that it is below street level. Isaribi is open daily for dinner and a meal will cost around ¥5,000. More information about Robatayaki Isaribi.
This is another fan favorite. With dishes starting at ¥300 you can get real value for your money, but check prices with your server; high-end ingredients can bump up the meal cost. Robatayaki Kakurechaya is open daily from 4 pm to 11 pm. More information about Robatayaki Kakurechaya.
Robatayaki in Kyoto
Try this restaurant for robatayaki in Kyoto:
Robatayaki Kochi - Sanjo Omiya
This venue caters to larger crowds, so you may not find the traditional counter seating experience—however, private rooms are available for small parties. Robatayaki Kochi - Sanjo Omiya is open for lunch and dinner and a typical meal will cost between ¥4,000 - ¥5,000. More information about Robatayaki Kochi - Sanjo Omiya.
We answer common questions about Japanese robatayaki.
What is a robata grill?
The Japanese robata grill is traditionally a grill with a stone encasement and a coal heat source. The ingredients don’t go directly on the heat, like they do on a Western griddle, and while it is similar to the yakitori grill, it is larger and accommodates a wider range of ingredients.
What Is the difference between robatayaki and hibachi?
You may have heard of hibachi grills as being synonymous with Western barbeque grills. Its original meaning was a traditional Japanese room heater. However, these days most Japanese people will understand Western usage of this word.
While the hibachi in modern times is often an electric grill or a charcoal grill, the robata grill almost always uses binchotan coal as its heat source. Once the desired heat is created, robatayaki chefs use careful spacing of the ingredients to control the airflow and this maintains the ideal heat. The correct heat in robatayaki cooking is like the correct slicing technique in sushi and sashimi preparation.