いらっしゃい!
...an expat libertine with a penchant for sparkly dining partners, jazz bars and izakaya.
Opinions here expressed are not necessarily shared by any with whom I associate. Fault for errors and any offense caused is entirely my own.
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Saturday
Feb072009

Torishin, Shimbashi  鳥心、新橋

Shimbashi hosts myriad izakaya, nomiya, bars and restaurants. Not only is the casual visitor spoilt for choice but also easily overwhelmed. A favourite haunt of salarymen, the sheer number of eateries and neon lit bar signs hint of culinary delight, chance encounters and, of course, the possibility of disappointment. As neither my dining partner or I are particularly familiar with the area we had, as is often the best policy, to rely on instinct in selecting our evening's establishment. 

But five minutes stroll from Shimbashi station Torishin's facade appealed immediately. A well presented, thoroughly 'Japanese' style design of wood and noren (shop curtain displaying the name of the establishment) hanging before the entrance seemed to promise quality food, convivial atmosphere and possibly higher than average prices. We were not disappointed on any count.  

Entering the warmly-lit, cozy interior of wooden beams, kitchen counter of polished wood and raised table seating we were greeted by a polite gaijin-friendly woman who quickly showed us to a place at the counter from which we could enjoy the shelved display of quality shochu and patron's 'keep bottles'. Coats and umbrellas were taken and carefully hung, and drink orders promptly taken with a smile. 

Thanks to the lively atmosphere, the air filled with the sound of conversation and lively laughter of groups of salarymen and young couples, one soon slipped into the mood of the place and felt comfortably at ease. Although not a large space, the counter seating was not, as can all too often be the case, cramped although the table area certainly seemed to offer a more comfortable dining experience. 

Browsing the limited menu it became apparent that Torishin is a Yakitori-ya (shop specializing in grilled chicken morsels on skewers) specializing in shochu. That said a small but choice selection of nihonshu (sake) is also available. Accompanied by an initial otsumami (appetizer) of dried, baby shrimp in vinegar and grated daikon (radish) with soy-sauce the smooth, dry taste of Seikyo provided the greatest thrill in terms of nihonshu. Later the Hiraizumi was somewhat uninspiring while old favourites such as Kubota were over-priced. 

The Torishin-salad was a pitiful affair of lettuce, tomato, yellow pepper and chicken in a painfully mundane dressing. Why the proprietor, a Mr. Huruta Takashi, deigns attach his shops name to such a dish is beyond me. Fortunately the quality of further dishes, such as the assorted kushi plate comprising of two skewers each of chicken liver, chicken and leak, and tsukune (minced chicken) and chicken sasami (lean chicken meat) with plum sauce and seaweed, were excellent with the skewers of chicken liver being grilled to perfection being neither over- or under-cooked and thus exquisitely tender. Certainly it has been many years since I last encountered liver tasting this good.  

Other highlights included lightly salted skewers of onion and shitake mushroom, and a sesame coated grilled onigiri (riceball). The menu is somewhat limited with each dish being a little too small for my taste. However, that which is on offer, salad aside, is a considered, well presented selection that encourages a second visit. Prices are somewhat higher than average although the quality of the food combined with the pleasant service and atmosphere of place go someway to justifying them. Fresh ingredients, careful cooking and a clean shop interior all add to the joy of dining at Torishin.

My only complaint other than the price and size of the dishes is that the counter does not look onto a kitchen. The kitchen is itself behind doors to the side of the counter area, with food only appearing in the counter 'kitchen' to be served. The ability to watch ones meal being cooked is always a bonus...

Still, I will no doubt be making another visit to Torishin although with so many other enticing restaurants in the area I may well be distracted... 

 

Tel: 03-5405-2785

Monday
Jan122009

Uroko, Nakano  ウロコ、中野

Nakano's Uroko, an izakaya specializing in fish and other sea produce, is conveniently situated but two minutes walk from the north exit of the station and offers a lively, cheap and cheerful evening's dining. 

A relatively recent, having opended in summer 2007,  edition to the array of izakaya and nomiya in the vicinity of Nakano's Broadway, Uroko is easily noticed by its rustic / fishing-port izakaya styling and sheet-plastic doorway! 

Nakano has long remained a favourite nighttime haunt of mine, especially the web of side-streets and back-roads on the north side of the station. Something of a previous era remains. Recalling the Tokyo of the 1960s, perhaps, or the 1970s. This neighbourhood provides no-nonsense food and drink for those who expect flavoursome dishes at reasonable prices. 

Uroko sports two floors, although it certainly is not spacious. Brightly lit, warm and lively it welcomes passers-by by dint of its styling and seeming size which serve to differentiate it from the surrounding establishments. 

The service is prompt, lively and informal. The waiting staff being young, the general atmosphere of the izakaya is relaxed and friendly. Customers range from families with young children to those possessing bus-passes. Real warmth is added by the charcoal braziers at each table and seating place. Although perhaps overbearing in warmer months, during the autumn / winter the heat generated by these coal grills is a welcome respite from the cold. 

A choice of tables with benches or counter seats (beer crates with wooden tops) are available. I would recommend the counter as, surrounding the open kitchen, it affords a view of the various fish being prepared and a chance to converse with the affable red-haired master of the shop. 

The food on offer is simple, although the menu is full of choice. Fish and other sea foods are the specialty of the place, and as such other mundane izakaya fare, for example the salad or kuroke, are noteworthy only for their lack of exceptionality. The seafood is, on the other hand, a different matter. Apparently having connections with the fishing port of Kagaji, in Oita-ken (Oita prefecture), this izakaya has ready access to an ample supply of quality fresh fish. The majority of dishes are served in their natural unadulterated state lacking even salt or pepper. Occasional embellishments such as miso paste, Soya sauce, or wasabi were recommended. 

All dishes are cooked by oneself upon old, red-painted braziers stained with grease and smoke. A good part of the entertainment of eating at Uroko is the act of cooking each dish, much in the same way as Yakiniku (grilled meat). Indeed, this is yakiniku only with fish. Prices are most reasonable, although the draught Yebisu seems slightly small and expensive at 480 yen. Moroever, those who have more than a passing interest in nihonshu or shochu will be disappointed. Little more than a nameless hot or cold option is offered. 

A shop specialty worth trying is the jaw of tuna (maguro no kama) which at 30cm in length and just 500 yen is a bargain.  Squid and Octopus dishes are also excellent, especially when accompanied by grilled garlic. 

 Uroko is certainly value for money, and recommended for a cheap and cheerful evening's repast. Two dining for 3-4 hours, eating and drinking plentifully, costs a little short of 4,000 yen per head. Nakano does have better to offer in terms of quality and surroundings, at a higher price, in the form of the robatayaki at Okajouki (with connections to Tsukiji fish market) just around the corner.

On the downside, the seating is far from comfortable, and space is lacking at the counter. If seafood is not your thing, best to give it a miss. Otherwise, good value no-frills fare in one of Tokyo's best playgrounds. 

 

Tel: 03-5948-5652.

Monday
Jan122009

Munakata, Ginza  むなかた、銀座

Munakata, a small, popular Japanese restaurant, is located in the basement level of the Hotel Komuzu, near Shimbashi station. Seemingly very popular with foreign tourists, not doubt guest at the hotel itself, and Japanese, Munakata serves 'traditional' Japanese food at, during lunch time at least, very reasonable prices. 

Interior decoration is 'classic' Japan. Wood, bamboo and tatami mats. Brightly lit, simple. A choice of tables, counter seats or zashiki (Japanese-style room devoid of chairs) is available. We opted for the zashiki which, apart from the ill-suited western music piped in just ever so slightly too loudly, is comfortable and spacious containing four low tables each capable of accommodating 4-5 diners. 

The always excellent Yebisu beer is available on tap. The lunch menu comprises a selection of teishoku, set course, meals of various size and composition. These meals are served on large faux-lacquer trays and a selection of bowls, plates and layered 'boxes'. The 'Japaneseness' of the tableware, along with the polite service by kimono-clad waitresses, may well go some way to explaining the restaurant's popularity with foreign tourists. 

The particular lunch set we ordered commenced with a simple salad topped with fried wan-tan noodles and citrus dressing. This was followed in timely fashion by the main courses, all neatly arranged on the above mentioned tray. An excellent variety of dishes added to the interest of the meal. A half-kabutoni of tai (fish head of sea bream) in the usual sake, soya and sugar sauce; tempura of fish, shrimp and vegetables; tuna sashimi with tororo (a sticky white substance made from a variety of potato that, sadly, brings resembles cuckoo spit); boiled spinach with sesame, kiriboshi daikon (dried daikon with fried tofu); and yet another smaller tuna sashimi dish, this time topped with a plum sauce. All this supplemented by boiled rice, miso soup and pickled hakusai (Chinese cabbage).

Although not worthy of Michelin stars, each dish was tasty, well presented, and as a whole the lunch was of a good size. Furthermore, costing just 1,800 yen it was excellent value. 

Munakata will, however, cease trading on January 15th. It is to be replaced by an udon noodle restaurant, apparently. 

Tel: 03-3574-9356.

Sunday
Jan112009

Kichinto, Soshigaya-Okura  きちんと、祖師ケ谷大蔵

Situated but a few minutes walk from Soshigaya-Okura station, on the Odakyu-Line, Kichinto provides standard izakaya fare at economy prices.

 Recently 'refurbished', although I was unable to detect any real change since my last visit several years ago, my dining partners and I, needing ample supply of alcohol and food as ballast and little more, entered Kichinto to be greeted by an enthusiastic 'irasshai', 'welcome', from the young waiter who promptly fell off the slightly raised wooden floor above the entrance. Free entertainment surely, and an initial indicator of things to come. 

Initially rather quiet, the main room and adjoining koshitsu, private rooms, soon became lively. Patrons of Kichinto seem to cover various age groups, from early twenties through late fifties, with the former being abundant. 

The interior is the usual budget-izakaya style, wood-work and hanging blinds surrounding an open kitchen of wood and stainless-steel. The atmosphere is lively, with the bubble of conversation being complimented by thoroughly awful, and unrecognizable, Euro-pop anthems more suited to a small-town gay bar than an izakaya.

Prices are reasonable. A daijoki of draught beer, which is near frozen, comes in at 800 yen. Quotidian dishes, such as chicken karaage at 500 yen, abound. The service is relaxed, friendly, vaguely uninterested and certainly prone to mistakes. Our meal comprised of an appetizer of greasy prawn crackers, eda-mame, the aforementioned karaage, unusually elongated gyoza and a tuna-sashimi, avocado and wasabi-mayonnaise salad. The selection of drinks on offer is rather limited, especially in terms of nihonshu (sake). As a result I resorted to whisky once the taste of beer became tiresome. 

In all, Kichinto offers little in the way of surprises. Although nothing about it excites, it should not be expected to do so. It is, along with thousands like it, no more than it presumes to be. As such there is certainly no reason to make a journey to visit. If stranded in Soshigaya-Okura, the town has better to offer although at somewhat higher prices. 

 

Tel: 03-5948-5652.

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