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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Entries in Chiyoda Line (7)

Wednesday
Jul182012

Pizzeria 1830, Nogizaka  乃木坂

Considering the decent reviews scattered around the web, after a lunchtime visit to Nogizaka’s (across the road from Nogizaka station post office on Gaien Higashi Dori) Pizzeria 1830, I couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed. 

A pleasant enough little restaurant, although both the atmosphere and cooking are more in the café-diner vein, but considering its location (more or less on top of Tokyo Midtown) one could be forgiven for expecting the place to be heaving of a Saturday, where as in fact it was practically deserted.

The menu was certainly wide ranging, which perhaps hints at the pizza being more mass-market than those of other, more dedicated restaurants. There were plenty of antipasti, pasta, and so on, available, too. Lunch sets comprising of pasta/ pizza, salad and drink are also served, although considering the size of the pizza, it’s probably best to order straight from the main pizza menu and make the most of it.   

Those that my dining partner and I ordered – the Margherita and Francescana (prosciutto and mushroom) – were certainly sizable, if not mind-blowingly complex in terms of texture and flavour.

The prosciutto was too thin, almost translucent, and a little bland. The mushrooms screamed, “just out of the tin.” The Margherita was marginally the more flavoursome of the pair, but was still let down by the base, which was neither chewy nor doughy/ salty enough, and watery tomatoes.

These weren’t bad pizzas per se, merely uninspiring. Far better can be had for a smaller investment at establishments that also offer much more in the way of atmosphere and character.

Still, if in the area, Pizzeria 1830 is worth a look. It’s just not one of the Tokyo pizza pantheon.

 

03-3402-1830

Pizzeria 1830

Saturday
May192012

Sen Ri Ba, Tokyo Midtown  千里場、東京ミッドタウン

Sen Ri Ba is a no nonsense Chinese restaurant, focused on Shanghai cuisine, situated among the cluster of eateries in Akasaka’s Tokyo Midtown complex.

Clean, tidy, and with an almost canteen-like atmosphere, a filling lunch can be had for around ¥1,000.

The chicken karaage set came with soup, rice, pickles, a minuscule dumpling and a small dessert. Refills of the already sizable bowls of rice were offered, too.

 

03-5413-3688

Sen Ri Ba

Wednesday
Dec282011

T.G.I. Friday’s, Harajuku  原宿

As the redevelopment of the backstreets nestled between Meiji Dori and Kiddy Land proceeds, most of the familiar watering holes have disappeared. Plenty of interesting looking bars, cafés and patisseries are replacing them, but are so popular that at lunchtime there’s no choice but to get in line and wait for a table. Hardly advisable at this time of year.

The only place that didn’t have a queue outside it was T.G.I. Friday’s, and so (being in need of a drink) that’s where we ended up.

Along with the appallingly slow and ill-timed service (my dining partner and I had thought eating lunch together, at the same time, might have been nice), and the weak G&Ts, the food wasn’t up to much either.

The Philly Cheese Steak Wrapper turned out to be bland, and the fries quite awful. At least the Sizzling Shrimp was plentiful, if nothing else.

 

03-5774-6855

T.G.I. Friday’s

Tuesday
Oct052010

Koyu, Nezu  呼友、根津

Nezu is a charming, gentrified shitamachi hangover from old Tokyo. There may well be plenty of true Edoko still residing in the neighbourhood, but I still hesitate to describe it as a hangover from old Edo. It’s not. If anything, it does still offer a glimpse of post-Edo era Meiji and Taisho Tokyo, which in this post-modern (read sinking ship) age of concrete, steel and glass is historic enough.

Much to my shame, I know Nezu just about as well as I do Sangenjaya, which is to say, hardly at all. I’ve zipped past it along the Shinobazu Dori by taxi a couple of times on my way home from a night’s charm at Isukura in neighbouring Sendagi, and did once make a visit to the somewhat touristy, though of high pedigree, Hantei.

But when that most prolific of Tokyo dining bloggers felt impelled to rhapsodise not once, but twice about Koyu, even going so far as to describe it as the best izakaya in town, and the Woodsman supported the claim, I knew a visit to Nezu’s Koyu was a must.

Actually, visiting Nezu is a must anyway. Before meeting my dining partner at Koyu, I spent an hour or so bumbling around the various backstreets off the main drag, and was pleased to discover untold numbers of excellent looking izakaya and nomiya. That I’ve not yet returned to check them out yet only goes to show how much I deprive myself of the pleasures this city has to offer.

I had high expectations of Koyu (as you might imagine following such a ringing endorsement), and yet they were only, truth be told, partly met. The interior was a little sterile. Well appointed, in clean, understated izakaya-modern style that reminded of a decent sushi bar in many ways. On the night I visited, at least, it was utterly devoid of atmosphere and only a little better stocked with customers; a middle-aged husband and wife were settled into the semi-private koagari area, busily mining their mouths with toothpicks. The expansive LCD flat screen television (think it was a Samsung) dominating the main wall of the dining area was just plain weird.

So too was the service. The master kept himself busy in the small kitchen behind the counter, and we heard not a peep from him all evening. The mistress of the house, I assume, was not in the best of moods. In fact, she seemed most put out at having to serve at all. She several times denied that they had ever served dishes about which we asked, despite my producing photographic evidence from the twinterweb (again courtesy of Mullers). After all the rhapsodising that had taken place, perhaps had endured one too many eager fanboys descending upon her peaceful establishment that year?

The food was an entirely different matter. Yes, it's all simple stuff, nothing too outlandish and very much in the classic izakaya style, only done very, very well. The ingredients are obviously considered and of the better variety, and the cooking is near faultless. As usual, I’d have liked to see a little more of each dish, but this was Nezu, after all, and this was an izakaya still paying for the recent refit.

The otoshi was tasty, clean and understated; green pepper, carrot, pumpkin and aubergine. Looked nice, tasted better and suggested greater things to come. The wagyu beef topped with oroshi-ponzu and served on a bed of leaves was wonderful. Juicy, lean, lightly cooked. Probably should have ordered it several times over, as it was certainly a highlight of the evening. So to was the grilled, pepper-dashed long potato. A strange, crunchy-sticky texture, and extremely flavoursome due to the pepper and grilling. A first, and a pleasant one at that.

As had been foretold, the sautéed cabbage and tuna (really from a tin?) was surprisingly good. Really, I had my doubts too, but it was quite excellent. The tempura of big, wholesome beans was also a joy. Light batter, not at all oily and perfect when dipped in salt.

Given that food was so good, it was a shame that in terms of atmosphere and service Koyu turned out to be such a disappointment. I’ll chalk it down to bad luck. On a better night, a fuller house and a lady who got out of the right side bed that morning might well be all it takes to make this izakaya truly great.

 

Tel: 03-3823-5533

Monday
May182009

Lotus Palace, Akasaka  ロータスパレス、赤坂

If, like me, there are times when you long for bolder, spicier tastes than those found in Japanese cuisine, then Akasaka’s Lotus Palace, a Vietnamese restaurant a stone’s throw from the Metro station exit, is likely to please. I can’t claim to be well versed in the ways of Vietnam’s cuisine, but as this restaurant had been introduced to my dining partner by a gentleman of Vietnamese descent I expected to be pleased with the evening’s meal.

The Lotus Palace, of which there are two, the other being located in Ikebukuro, is a small establishment on Akasaka Dōri recognized by its glass façade behind which hang slatted wooden blinds that allow only a slight glimpse of that which awaits the expectant diner. The interior is attractive, blacks and reds, less than a dozen small tables, with faux black leather benches, a bar on the right before the kitchen with high bar stalls, and to the rear of the room a smoking section screened off with bamboo lattices. Nicely lit, so as two create an intimate atmosphere, the place is comfortable enough, although the tables for two are a little on the small side and as such you would be best advised not to order too many dishes all at once, with the interior decoration far removed from the usual wooden simplicity of Japanese izakaya. My only real gripe, aside from the tables, was the dreadful Euro-trance piped into the dining area. Hardly conducive to a relaxing meal, it served only to bring about the usual tightening of the lungs and rapidly beating heart that any who misspent their youth in UK clubs during the 1990s will be all too familiar with…

A tall, slim waitress clad in a tight-fitting traditional Vietnamese dress, slit high up the thigh, threatened to distract me from the dining experience. She also brought the ample menu, complete with Vietnamese names for the dishes and photos to guide the uninitiated, and took our drink orders. Surprised as I was to find Bass Pale Ale on the menu, I opted for a standard draught beer while noting the availability of Vietnamese liquor. The service throughout was polite, although somewhat too business like, as was that given by the master of the house, a portly Japanese fellow.

Our meal commenced with two nama harumaki (uncooked spring roll) bulging with bacon, juicy shrimps, potatoes, cucumber lettuce and noodles, eaten with ones fingers, dipping the roll into a spicy sauce. Delicious, filling, healthy. A fantastic salad of green papaya, sliced and boiled, mixed with peanuts, shrimps, pork and fried garlic followed. This was certainly a highlight of the meal. Wonderfully moist, the taste of the papaya was intriguing and the aroma strong. Encouraged we ordered the Banh Xeo, a 30cm diameter pancake stuffed with bean sprouts and mushrooms, which is the then sliced up, wrapped in lettuce leaves and dipped into another spicy sauce. In terms of size it was excellent value, and yet I found its taste rather oily. Furthermore it is extremely messy with the oil, juice from the filling, and dipping sauce running all over ones hands. By the time we had finished the thing a small pile of hand wipes gobbled up what little space was left on the table.

Ordering some of the “Vietnamese shōchū,” the bottle’s label declared it to be “Vietnamese vodka”, I marveled at its strength, nutty flavour (Almond I believe) and the volume of gaijin entering the restaurant. Being Akasaka, and close to the station, I ought not to have been surprised. Still, it is rare, at least in my experience, to dine in a restaurant in which gaijin outnumber Japanese and other Asians. Around this point in the evening the trance music ceased, to be replaced by something else. What I cannot remember. It was certainly quieter at any rate. Next came the Bo Xien, skewers of succulent beef sprinkled with spring onion and nuts. These were dipped into a sweet and sour sauce. Overall an excellent dish, the taste highly reminiscent of spare ribs. Still impressed, we then ordered deep fried crab, a nice pile of small karaage like morsels, the crabmeat soft, the taste one of oil and spices. Recommended!  By this point, I really felt unable

to eat another bite, but wanting to try some soup we had the Fuō, a large bowl of steaming broth in which chicken, Fuō noodles and spring onion jostled for attention. Content, pleased with quality of the meal, and not a little drunk, I decided to round off the evening with a whisky. One of largest I have ever had. Truly excellent value!

An interesting, delicious, meal at a reasonable price can easily be had at Lotus Palace. Dance music aside, the surrounding are pleasant and the service business like. The menu offers a good selection of varied dishes that certainly require further study. Worth a visit? Certainly.

 

Tel: 03-5114-0747

Saturday
Feb072009

Hantei, Nezu はん停、根津

A first-time, all be it brief, visit to Nezu's Hantei was enjoyed last week, following the celebrations at Isukura (see previous entry). Directly opposite the entrance to Nezu's metro station Hantei is a Kushi-ya, specializing in meat, chicken, fish and vegetable skewers, dating back to the Taisho period (1912-1926). The shop’s facade now takes on a post-modern grill-like form of glass and steel, which shields the charming original three-story wooden structure. Nevertheless, the resulting design is eye-catching, although out of place on the otherwise plain Shinobazu Dori. The entrance to the restaurant is actually located on the side of the building to the rear. The original building is here revealed and open to the elements, all dark wood, steel-grey tiles and bamboo covers.

Busy even on the Sunday evening upon which I visited, the three floors of Hantei are mostly of bamboo matting and low tables with the first floor furnished with western style tables and chairs upon polished wooden floors. Service was polite, if somewhat lacking in warmth. A delicious otsumami of baby shrimps and Yanaka ginger topped with lemon was noteworthy, as was the selection of raw vegetables accompanied by a perfectly gorgeous red miso paste, the contents of which, being a shop secret, was only explained as containing red miso and meat. 

Other kushiage dishes were pleasant yet some how no more than expected. A little formulaic perhaps, although to be fair I ordered only a small selection, having already eaten at Isukura. The presentation of each dish was not bad at all, but far from exciting. Overall each offering was quite delicious. However Hentei failed to grab my attention fully, why I am not sure, and as such further investigation is required before any real verdict is made. 

 

Tel: 03-3828-1440.

Saturday
Feb072009

Isukura, Sendagi いすくら, 千駄木

Last weekend marked the fifth anniversary of Isukura a splendid koryoriya (small eatery / bar) located in Sendagi on the Chiyoda-line. To mark the occasion the proprietors, the Suzuki sisters, hosted an invitation-only party for long-term patrons, friends and family. The resulting gathering is worthy of mention, as is Isukura itself. 

In brief, the two proprietors of Isukura  were born, many moons ago, in the very house that they have converted into the bar. Although Isukura is but five years old, in the past one of the sisters owned a bar in Ikebukuro, of the same name, that was by all accounts a favourite among local yakuza (gangsters). Friends of that previous bar now frequent its Sendagi reincarnation. 

Almost impossible to locate, Isukura is perfectly hidden in a back street off a back street five minutes from Sendagi station and a further five from the Daimyo Clock Museum. Those that manage to locate it find a simple noren adorned entrance framed by bamboo trees. Enter in, and one is greeted by a small counter and seating area, with a cozy washitsu (Japanese style room), which can welcome five or six comfortably, to the right and front of the shop.

Specialities are shochu and choice nihonshu, the former being best represented. The food on offer at Isukura is simple, being designed to accompany drinking and conversation rather than providing a robust meal. Dishes include, but are not limited to, fish, chicken, meat, insects (deep friend crickets are delicious), and vegetables. All are cooked in a delicious, unpretentious home style in the small open kitchen behind the counter.   

The atmosphere always friendly, Isukura provides an opportunity for fine conversation and drinking with regular customers, and a chance to peek into this popular shitamachi (downtown) neighbourhood where the echo of former times and old Edo culture persist. Popular with women, it is a welcome change from the norm. The welcome of the Suzuki-sisters being nothing less than warm, a visit is recommended. 

Just don't go there on an empty stomach.

Update 21/4/09: A recent visit revealed that Isukura has updated and expanded its menu, not only in terms of the food on offer but also in that the menus themselves have been redesigned. Moreover, a greater selection of drinks is now available, and the bar's collection of tableware has been updated. It would seem that some funds are being reinvested in the business. 

We enjoyed a splendid dish of succulent slices of roast duck, which certainly bodes well for other new additions to the menu. Worryingly, and even though we visited on a Saturday night, there were only two other customers in the place... I sincerely hope it is not the start of a new, and unexpected, trend. 

Update 30/1/11: More change, for the good, afoot at Isukura. Young Mr. Miura, son of one the Suzuki Sisters, is now taking a far more hands on approach and spending much more of his time in the kitchen delighting Isukura's regulars with his quite wonderful, self-taught, cooking.  As he seems to have roped his delightful, new lady wife into helping out, we are most likely witnessing a transition, a succession. 

What does this mean for the casual diner? A greater variety of well-considered, seasonal fare with a touch more imagination than previously deployed, and a lot more flavour. Presentation is markedly improved, too.

One thing that, thankfully, remains unchanged is the "trademark" potato salad. Smooth, simply delicious and a great start to an evening of nibbles. New on the menu was the "risotto," which despite being delicious was nothing more than some rice with tuna topped with cheese and then grilled. Thankfully the duck tsukune was excellent, rather firm and stronger tasting than the more usual chicken kind. Appealing to the eye, as well as the taste buds, the tankenoko is worth a try, although from what I gather it's not often on the menu. Oddly, the most delicious, and quite impossible to resist, dish of the evening was the shio mame. These white beans were wonderful. The highlight of the evening, both in terms of watching its preparation and the devouring, was easily the fried shitake mushrooms stuffed with shrimp and chicken mince. Vaguaely sweet, almost Chinese in taste. One to try at home. 

Isukura goes from strength to strength. 

 

Tel: 03-5685-2247