It was another one one of those, “Why didn’t we think of this?” and “You could make a fortune in London with a place like this—hipsters would eat it up.”
We had already stuffed our faces with amazing okonomiyaki at Kuishinbo and shelled out for craft beer at Kamikaze. We wanted to drink more but without the hassle of otooshi-dai (table charge) at an izakaya or expensive drinks at a bar. In Japan there’s really not a lot of options, but mr.kanso came to the rescue.
Completely by accident, we stumbled upon the ‘flagship’ bar in the swanky Canal Terrace Horie complex along Osaka’s famous Dotonbori canal. The space was dimly lit and stylishly (but not too stylishly) decorated, and it buzzed like any good bar should on a Saturday night. Large windows looked out onto the canal, where groups of Japanese hipsters and a few tourists wandered back and forth. It looked like your average bar except for a corner of large shelving units near the door that were stocked with cans and jars of food from around the world.
This is where things got interesting. From Spanish Iberico ham to hot-and-spicy Spam, masaman curry to Hokkaido bear meat, Planters mixed nuts to those horrible, syrupy fruit cocktails, the food menu was there on the shelves waiting to be examined and selected by bar patrons. mr.kanso foregoes all the culinary pomp and circumstance of fancier Japanese bars, instead dealing in a rather impressive selection of preserved goods at bargain prices.
The process is simple: Each item is priced according to coloured stickers. Grab a little basket and choose any delightful or adventurous combination of preserved goodies, and present them at the bar—kind of like shopping in a supermarket. The cashier/bar tender takes your drink order as well as your selected goods, then ‘prepares’ (read: heats up) and ‘arranges’ (read: takes the lid off the can) your order. Payment is made on the spot, which is something we cheapos really liked, and everything is brought over to your table when it’s ready.
The drinks are as you’d expect for Japan and the prices are spot on: ¥350 ($2.85) for a medium-sized mug of Asahi Super Dry or a generous glass of (cold) red wine, ¥600 ($4.90) for a (incorrectly poured) Guinness. There’s also an impressive selection of shochu, saké and whiskey, each about ¥100 below normal izakaya prices.
The food is actually pretty good, and we were surprised at the quality of some of it. Smoked sardines and olives are safe picks, but who knew canned potato salad would taste so awesome?! For the adventurous who are looking to splurge, there is venison and sea urchin, and for the homesick there’s good ol’ Hormel chilli and Campbell’s soup.
The best part is marvelling at the sheer variety of things that come in a can. It’s nice to know that, should the apocalypse ever come, we’ll still be able to enjoy things like yakitori and takoyaki—if we can make it to a mr.kanso.
As you would expect, the concept is popular enough that the chain is spreading across the country like an invasive species, but how long before we see a chain like this in Europe or the USA? As a business idea it’s pretty solid; canned food almost never expires, requires no skilled cooks, and is probably a lot easier on Health and Safety than having a full kitchen. We only wish the chain had gone with a post-apocalypse or bunker theme instead of something that looks like a backyard bar. But maybe whoever picks up this idea and decides to make a killing with it in London can work it in with The Blitz.