Article By Jason Rogers
3008 3F, Wei Yang International Commercial Block, Feng Ching 7 Rd.
(029) 8929 5938
Average Price per Person /人均消费: 100RMB
Some experiences just stick with you: your first sports game; your first kiss; or maybe a trip you took years prior. For me, one that resonates with me was my time in Japan. There were so many experiences to take in, so I can think of lots of things I enjoyed, but one I carry with me was the simple pleasure of the Izakaya. By definition, an Izakaya is a type of Japanese bar in which a variety of small, – typically inexpensive – dishes and snacks are served to accompany the alcoholic drinks. And that’s exactly what I got while I was there. It was a relaxed drinking environment for the weary and hardworking. A place to gather and take in the people around you, while enjoying simple prepared food at a decent price. Oh, and of course you had to have a nice cold draft to chug while you ate. It was that charming and unpretentious dining experience that was so attractive, especially after running around the city chasing fancy cocktail bars, malls, and museums. It was so nice, and now I find myself longing for that same feeling after a busy day.
But there is one problem, Xi’an has Izakaya’s, a few actually sprinkled throughout the city, but each one has taken this wholesome idea of the Izakaya as the after-work refugee and turned it into a fancy affair. Glitz and glam, expensive prices; I understand the elegance of Japanese cuisine but sometimes I just want lots of meat cooked on fire. Something similar to Kao rou but they complete miss the mark for me. That’s why Friend’s Union provided a sigh of relief. When I stepped in, I could recognize that thought had been put into the design. Modern and nice, but not overly done. It tries to write a little love letter to Japan and it succeeds. The seating is spacious, but not large in number so it creates a more intimate eating space. There is a bar area of course and it has an open kitchen so you can easily see (and smell) the meats being grilled.
The menu has all the staples, yakitori (grilled meats on a stick), ramen (a very nice selection), sushi (I couldn’t help trying the salmon sashimi) and other light snacks. There is enough there to get full and not break the bank, as the pricing was a lot more reasonable compared to some other Izakaya-style restaurants. I sampled my way through the menu trying to find something I didn’t enjoy and sadly, I failed. One of my favorites was the beef and garlic grilled meat skewers. The meat was thick cut, flavorful, and grilled to perfection. I even got seconds at the end, when I was beyond full. I tried their fried foods sample plate and was delighted to see that everything was fried lightly with just the needed amount of oil. The sushi was good quality for the price and the yakitori came out quickly with little wait time (another improvement to the fancy spots). Oh, and I almost forgot the beef rice bowl with a fresh egg yolk was super creamy and delicious. I even had a chance to try some of their sake and draft beer (I mean how could I not, right?). For an Izakaya, the beer needs to be chilled and crisp, which was definitely the case. And the sake was especially made for eating with grilled meats, so I found myself in food and sake heaven in no time.
The experience was exactly what I had been craving, and even though it wasn’t a super expensive restaurant, the food quality and preparation was still high. This new restaurant is part of the Leban restaurant group, and is actually the passion project of two friends. An ode to Japan food culture that had long been talked about but never realized until now. I think it’s pretty obvious that some love and thought went into this place. It’s a relaxed spot, great for after work drinks or maybe a first date that won’t feel so formal. A tip, although the menu shows 2 portions for most of the skewers, it’s actually only 1 when you order, so always double up. If you are having those same cravings I was having or just want to try something fun and new that won’t stress you out (or your wallet), then make your way over to Friend’s Union.
Jason Rogers, a former bartender and liquor sales consultant from the US. When he’s not dreaming up delectable drinks, he is committed to his other passions, like singing, comedy and creative writing.
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