...an expat libertine with a penchant for sparkly dining partners, jazz bars and izakaya.
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Japan Eats Podcast 19: Tokyo's Pizzerie

The recording of another boozy conversation regarding Tokyo's pizza scene, with Messrs. DeOrio and Lovitt of Japan Eats fame, is now available here:


And via iTunes here (Podcast 1):


Recorded earlier this month while dining at an undisclosed chain izakaya in Takadanobaba. 


Tsubaki, Shinjuku  華椿、新宿

One of many awful budget izakaya in Shinjuku, just up the road from Segafredo on the East side of the station, Tsubaki’s only redeeming feature was a negotiable nomihodai plan.

With a little over an hour to kill with old friends on a short trip to Tokyo, being collared on the street by one of the izakaya’s fluffers proved useful.

An hour of all-we-could-drink silliness for ¥800, as long as we ordered a dish per head. Considering that it was too late for lunch, and too early for dinner, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

The building, izakaya interior and service were all instantly forgettable. The food standard for such places. The edamame were okay, the chicken karaage and potato salad edible but not for the delicate of stomach. About on a par with the grub at American.  


Selan, Kita-Aoyama  北青山

Due to close tomorrow and scheduled to be reborn as Kihachi Honten in the Spring of next year, Selan is a popular lunch spot situated between Aoyama-Itchomo and Gaienmae stations, on the Ginko tree-lined promenade (Gaienmae Ichonamiki) leading into the Jingu Gaien park.

Thanks to the comfortable terrace looking out onto the avenue, and the neighbouring Royal Garden Café, the atmosphere is more European than might be expected.

Sitting out on the terrace in early Spring or late Autumn, looking forward to or desperately hanging onto summer is always a pleasure. 

Although the drinks are a tad over-priced (although standard for the area), the mid-range set lunches offer value for money – three courses followed by tea or coffee.

The food is generally good, although it would be nice if the pasta dishes featured something other than spaghetti.

On occasion, the choice of ingredients combined miss the mark… Smoked mackerel and aubergine in a rich tomato sauce being particularly jarring.

On the whole, Selan is at its best with simpler (perhaps less adventurous) dishes, such as the kyo jidori pasta, or seafood pasta dishes.

The salads are sizable, fresh and well presented, the soups delicious and filling.

Although not exactly stingy with the bread, I can’t help but wish they’d leave a basket full on the table and be done with it, instead of making offerings with each course.

Today, the pate was excellent, but needed something to spice it up a little, perhaps chutney/s and a more robust "home-cooked" style bread. 

When busy, the atmosphere is pleasant enough. The service is okay, but drink orders take overlong to arrive.

Still, not a bad choice for a relaxed lunch. Looking forward to trying Kihachi next spring.





Ichiren, Shinjuku  一蓮、新宿

A discovery made by a neighbourhood dining partner who understands that dining should mean food and drink in unequal measures, Ichiren proved to be a competent restaurant serving adequate Korean BBQ supplemented by somewhat mediocre side dishes, and supported by a 3-hour all-you-can-drink plan that, quite frankly, was quite excellent.

We paid a visit to the Shinjuku restaurant, not far from Segafredo and Tsunahachi on the East Exit side, although there are other outposts in Shibuya, Shinbashi and Chiba.

The interior and service screamed “budget chain restaurant,” but overall the set meal we ordered proved to be better than one would have guessed.

Although we went for meat option, the collagen nabe seemed to be extremely popular, especially among the many young ladies frequenting the place.

An appetizer of kimuchi and moyashi (bean sprouts) started the meal – a little dainty but good enough. Salmon carpaccio with fried garlic improved the outlook, as did a bowl full of lightly drizzled green salad.

A couple of risible prawn crackers topped with a shrimp and oodles of sickly-sweet mayo let the show down considerably, but this was soon forgotten once the pork arrived. Fried on the usual metal griddle, with garlic and kimuchi, it was tasty, but would have benefitted from being thicker cut such as that at of some of Shin-Okubo’s better Korean restaurants.

The bibimba was not as expected, but filled the corners. The dessert was unnecessary.

Not a bad destination for dinner and gallons of booze. If that’s your thing…

While on the subject, Maki-san’s recent Korean discovery looks very tempting.





Komatsuan, Shibuya  小松庵、渋谷

Komatsuan is a small chain of soba restaurants serving up “Tokyo Soba,” based on the traditions of Edo Soba, which is to say they claim to adhere to tradition while adding something contemporary to the mix, too. 

A visit to the Shibuya Tokyu Honten store for a late lunch found the place practically deserted, and lacking in character, as are most department store restaurants.

The menu offered range of set lunches, reasonable priced, with the soba and tempura set being well proportioned and tasty.





Napoli’s Pizza & Caffe, Jiyugaoka  自由が丘

Having been tipped off about Napoli’s Pizza and Café shortly before its opening, and then keeping an eye on the torrent of Facebook advertising and the sudden proliferation of young ladies handing out fliers on the streets of Jiyugoaka, I could hardly wait to give this low cost fast food pizzeria a try.

Located on Jiyu Dori, opposite Monsoon Café, Napoli’s delivers a refreshingly simple, and astonishingly cheap alternative to the more costly (although admittedly more refined) Neapolitan joints springing up across Tokyo. Pizzas range from ¥350 (margherita) to ¥650 (fantasista), with middle-size paper mugs of Carlsberg lager coming in at ¥500. 

The large backlit photographs of menu items above the service counter and bright red plastic trays are undoubtedly in the McDonalds vein, as are the S, M or L fries. The interior is more charming than most fast food joints, with the open kitchen and pizza oven at least giving a nod in the direction of more authentic pizzeria.

A fast food restaurant it may be, but the quality of the food and shop interior (non-smoking) are a cut above those offered under the golden arches.

Each of the pizzas I’ve tried to date have been delicious, the quattro formaggi in particular, given the low cost. The fantasista was good, too, but perhaps a little crowded in terms of toppings. Using the margherita as a benchmark, it was fine, not the best, but tasty and topped with plenty of fresh basil.   

The pizza base itself lets the side down somewhat, lacking the salty-doughy flavour and chewy moreishness of better establishments’ fare. On the upside, each was of a good size – one was more than enough for lunch.

Aside from fries, the side menu covers salads and antipasti, with a small range of desserts available, too. A two hour all-you-can eat plan is available for ¥2,000, which can be upgraded to include all-you-can-drink soft drinks, beer, wine and cocktails for an additional ¥800 – a tempting offer.

There’s another branch in Shibuya, with another due to open in Shimo-Kitazawa on September 15th.


Napoli’s Pizza & Cafe



Tai Kou Rou, Jiyugaoka 泰興楼、自由が丘  

Tai Kou Rou is a small (3 establishments) chain of venerable Chinese restaurants – the original (Tokyo/ Yaesu) restaurant having been in business since 1949. 

Famous for their gyoza more than anything else, after several dining partners sung Tai Kou Rou’s praise it seemed foolish not to take a look. The Jiyugaoka outpost is on the outskirts of the town, with an Okusawa address. The building is fairly unassuming, although through the glass façade it’s easy to see that the place is packed most nights. 

The second floor is much more interesting in terms of décor, with the faux old-Beijing interior adding to the experience. The service isn’t great… Watching the waiting staff gathered around the kitchen-hatch gossiping while you are desperately trying to place an order is simply annoying. Nevertheless, the food is good, very tasty actually, and the portions more than fair. The menu offers a wide range of Chinese dishes, but the gyoza are the stars of the show.

Simply put, they are immense, juicy, flavoursome, chewy, and perfectly fried so that the outer skins are browned almost all over. Better than those at Kitchen Tachikichi, but only just.

The spring rolls were also huge, and thakfully not too oily. Good though they were, they didn't set the spine tingling. 

My dining partner and I also had the pork fried rice (a veritable mountain of it) and the chingensai (fried greens) both of which were excellent. Delicious though this was, we ended up too full to try the sui-gyoza (boiled gyoza).

Oh well, reasons enough for a return visit.

It’s not the cheapest Chinese in the area, but given the quality and the size of the portions it very reasonable. Best visited in a group so as to enjoy more dishes.



Tai Kou Rou