Before the first hints of autumn were felt, and when the idea of rain was still laughable, Tokyoeater and I decided that the relentless, sultry evenings called for shorts, goatees, and chilled wine. Having left the choice of venue in the capable hands of my dining companion (much less hassle, and he always manages to introduce restaurants I’d never think of), we hit the streets of Hiroo hungry and desirous of air conditioning.
Having passed several tempting looking restaurants, we soon headed in the direction of Ebisu, and eventually arrived at Ninniku-ya (Garlic House), an eatery with which my dining partner has long been acquainted. As the name suggests, it’s all about garlic. Lots of it. This is never a bad thing, of course, and having confirmed that no more important meeting than that with the masseuse was scheduled for the following day, the idea of strong tasting, garlic infused dishes seemed perfect.
Ninniku-ya’s façade is rather non-descript; you could easily pass it by without noticing. The interior, a large main dining area and a smokers’ lair to the rear, brought to mind a blend of various European restaurants. You’d find similar décor in any number of countries, serving any number of cuisines. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, just a little bland in that it was a bit of everything and nothing in particular. But then again, we weren’t there to appraise the furnishings.
The clientele was extremely gaijin-heavy which, considering that we all “know” how much the Japanese “hate garlic” (and by extension Koreans) and that they (the Japanese) “don’t smell” (meaning that gaijin do), made perfect sense. Service was provided by a slightly weathered-looking old man, who seemed to have accepted that his lot in life is to string together simple, grammatically unsound, English in order to serve ravenous hoards of expats and visiting barbarians.
The menu offers a range of European standards (chicken, pork, beef, and pasta dishes), with a hint of Japanese influence, along with some Chinese fare, all shot-through with garlic, and garlic, and a little bit more garlic. So, as long as you like garlic, you’ll probably find something that pleases. I seem to remember our having a salad of some description, but I have no photographic evidence to support my hunch. There is, however, a photo of the aubergine with garlic olive oil, which was nice and soft while still retaining its texture and flavour. The level of garlic was pretty good, as it would prove to be throughout the meal, although my dining partner lamented the reduction in garlic in each dish compared to those of the past. Some things never last.
The shougayaki-style pork with green beans and, of course, garlic was rather basic, but certainly passable. Couldn’t help feeling it didn’t really fit the menu somehow, however. On the other hand, the garlic steak was a perfect fit. Thick, juicy steak, beautifully pink inside, seared on the outside and topped with a smattering of roast vegetables and mashed potato. Probably my favourite of the evening, this was simple yet thoroughly satisfying.
As is our wont, we made short work of a couple of chilled bottles of something white and eminently drinkable, which complimented the somewhat plain pasta dish. This was, from what I can remember, simply penne with mushrooms and tasteless bacon in a cream sauce. The garlic provided the flavour, although I really would have preferred this to be a lot stronger on the garlic front, so as to make up for the lacklustre bacon and mushrooms. It was also a little on the petite side – as I have pointed out before, pasta should be served in heaps!
My dining partner suggested the garlic bread, promising a great, glistening rod of baguette, served erect and piled with garlic. Sadly, upon arrival it turned out that even this once proud specimen had been reduced to the more usual halved variety, lying prostate upon the plate. Again, although I seem to recall some spring rolls making an appearance I haven’t any photos. They probably tasted of garlic though.
An enjoyable meal, and rather fun to indulge one's love of garlic. I’d certainly be interested to try another meal here if they promised to utilise the levels of garlic that I’m told they used to. Servings could have been a little more generous, and service with a smile would have been nice.