...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 Chuo Line (12)


Shinki Soba, Nakano  真希そば、中野

I used to spend an inordinate amount of time hanging out in Nakano, but years have passed since last paying the place much attention. A recent visit, in search of a renowned camera store, revealed a much changed north exit to the station, the development of which, thankfully, has had little or no effect on the narrow streets and alleyways to the east of the Sun Road and Broadway.

In the end the visit to the camera store proved fruitless, but lunch at Shinki Soba (conveniently located among the izakaya, rāmen shops and girly bars that make up the afore mentioned neighbourhood), was pleasant enough. Not purely dedicated to soba, the menu covered a range of more general izakaya standards, and some few of the patrons clearly treat the place as such.

The soba were nice and firm, and the tempura crisp and light. For the price and locale, the set lunches provided good cost performance, but the beer-pouring machine in the kitchen was the star of the show, and the communal pot of coffee brewing on the counter was a homely touch.

Cold Soba and tempura lunch set - perfect now the weather is warming up, and filling and nutritious too

Menus in black and orange - still all the rage for Japanese establishments

Soba and tempura in hot broth - delicious but the tempura batter soon becomes soggy

Soba - firm and slightly texturous 



Shinki Soba


Yuri Café, Koenji 高円寺  

An interesting concept, Yuri Café is a monthly “pop up” café-bar located in a small, fashionably understated gallery hidden away among Koenji’s backstreets.

The second floor of the building is home to a couple of one-room bric-a-brac/ antique (i.e., post-war oddments) shops, also worth a look.

Back to the café, and it’s all white walls and Ikea-esque furniture, a few prints upon the walls and a small kitchen to the rear of the space, from which the delightful Ms. Yuri produces rather nicely put together, and somehow “wholesome” feeling, meals with a traditional Japanese slant. 

The point of interest, aside from delicious home-cooking and superb leaf-wrapped onigiri (rice balls), being that the meal, laid out on a platter, was created with the aim of suggesting the colours and textures in a painting. Said art being reproduced as a tablemat for each diner.

A kooky little place providing decent food, interesting patrons and potent, if over-priced, homemade sangria. The tiny, photograph-filled menus also serve as a little memento of ones visit, too.



Uminekoya, Nishi-Ogikubo  海猫屋、西荻窪

Not having visited Nishi-Ogikubo for several years, I was delighted when Uminekoya, a small, neat and beautifully executed restaurant a brief stroll from the station's south exit, was suggested as a dining venue.

The shop’s façade and interior were modest; the latter dominated by a long dining counter and open kitchen, and the bustle of activity therein. The proprietors, two gentleman in their late-middle years, ran the whole show, from taking orders, preparing and cooking a host of excellent dishes to serving them all – along with sturdy pints of heartland beer or crisp white wines – with a smile. 

If one complaint could be raised, it would be that this two man show sometimes struggled to keep pace with countless re-orders and requests from a crowd of diners (a pleasant mix of families, smart young ladies and couples) clearly intent on enjoying as much of the varied and interesting menu as their stomachs could handle.

Not only was the menu varied – ranging from South East Asian through Japanese to European dishes – but every dish was also extremely well proportioned, nicely presented and undoubtedly lovingly created with high quality, fresh produce. The prices were very reasonable, with some being criminally cheap considering the volume and quality of cooking. For example, the thick, juicy slabs of roast pork with garlic roast potatoes, or the huge, mouthwatering pile of steamed vegetables that the diners on the neighbouring table ordered after (sadly) my dining partners and I had already eaten more than our fill.

Carpaccio of sole (delicate flavour, melted in the mouth)

Spring herring marinade (perfect combination with oil and black olives)

Thai-style spicy spring noodle salad (surprisingly spicy)

Marburu dofu (even spicier)

Succulent roast pork, with roast potatoes, garlic and herbs (perfection; and a zillion times better than that I recently had at Le Lion)


Quattro formaggio (very good, but not a patch on da Isa’s take on this classic pizza)

Cheese plate (the weakest of entire meal, but not unexpected)

Uminekoya is a praiseworthy restaurant, of which the gentlemen in the kitchen can be proud. Not recommended for raucous piss-ups, but perfect for a peaceful (smoke-free), stimulating meal with favourite dining companions. Very much looking forward to visiting again.





Kiyoka, Koenji  きよ香、高円寺

Back in March of last year, I finally got around to visiting one of Koenji’s esteemed Okinawan izakaya, Dachibin. A little over a year later, and I found myself invited to enjoy another evening of Okinawan cuisine at Kiyoka, the honten – now in its sixth decade – of the family-run chain of Okinawan businesses located not far from the station’s north exit.

Huddled down a sidle alley between lurching, half-rotten looking bars and eateries, Kiyoka is much smaller, and thus more intimate, than Dachibin, providing a more peaceful, leisurely dining experience, too. The service was patient and friendly, which always helps.

The menu is pretty much the same – plenty of Okinawan staples, only with less focus on the lower-end of the category, such as spam and scrambled eggs, as is usually encountered at less authentic Okinawan establishments.

We started the meal with some pungent tofuyo, a dense, cheese-like tofu eaten in small amounts as an accompaniment to liquor.

Dumplings followed, and didn’t last long. Would have preferred slightly thicker skins, but they were tasty nonetheless.

The goya-champuru was good, mostly because if contained real pork instead of spam. This dish seemed less bitter-tasting than it ought to, which might have been down to a bad batch of goya or something to do with the season, perhaps.

The sunui (a type of seaweed) tempura was very good, and could have easily been ordered a second time without complaint.

As could the gurukun, deep-fried fish so crunchy you can eat the whole thing.

We finished off the meal with a kind of spicy minced meat dish (the name escapes me), eaten by wrapping the meat in lettuce leaves, and some standard yaki-soba.

Keen to go back for some more. Although not as lively as Dachibin, I preferred what Kiyoka had to offer. 





Sakyuu-ya, Ogikubo  砂丘屋、荻窪

Not far from Ogikubo station’s south exit (yet far enough on a bitterly cold evening), Sakyuu-ya is closet-sized izakaya/ koryori-ya specializing in simple, strong tasting dishes designed to compliment sake and other tipples.

The counter seats about eight diners, at a push, and the master of the house has very little kitchen space in which to work but, nevertheless, manages to produce a variety of fish-themed, sake kasu (sake lees) infused dishes.

There’s a menu to choose from, although Woodster and I decided to try one of the omakase plans. Three price grades were available: ¥1,000, ¥2,000 or ¥3,000. We did the latter, which proved to be excellent value in terms of both quantity and quality.

Flame seared, fatty salmon 

Interesting otoshi – the beans marinated in Kahlua were great

Grilled fish and roast vegetables – reminiscent of Mediterranean cooking

Tofu and chicken, in sake kasu soup

Deep fried fish head, stuffed with roe baked in sake kasu

Dashi maki tamago

Sake kasu pizza!

Salmon and daikon in miso soup





Ahiru, Kichijoji  あひる、吉祥寺

According to tabelog.com, this little bar and wine store goes by the name of Ahiru Beer Hall, which is probably pushing it a bit. It’s located (a few yards from Ko-Panda) amongst the increasingly well turned out bars and eateries that occupy what was once a warren of ramshackle, decades old retail spaces huddled under rusting corrugated iron across the road from the bus rotary outside the central exit of Kichijoji station.

Many of these popular, if small, establishments are run by the now almost ubiquitous (in Kichijoji at any rate) Mishima – easily spotted by the little red lanterns outside each of their businesses. The ground floor bar, through which the upper floor with its chipboard furnishings is entered, is rather attractive; the far wall (as is that of the stairs) being lined with shelves full of tempting wines.

The service can be either extremely good or excruciatingly bad. The Gin & Tonic they serve is, however, beyond reproach.


Tel: 0422-20-6811



Jidori-ya, Nakano  ぢどり屋,中野

That Nakano has plenty to offer besides the otaku “delights” of Mandrake is well known, especially to those who enjoy izakaya. Out of the station's north exit, the labyrinthine area sandwiched between the Sun Mall shōtengai and the Fureai Road is home to a bewildering – and of late changing – array of izakaya and bars of various persuasions. 

Jidori-ya (spelt with a ぢ) is a little place specializing in simple free-range chicken izakaya fare and other classics reminiscent of much that is nowadays touted as cuisine peculiar to Miyazaki-ken.

Prices are reasonable; beer, Hoppy and cheap shōchū plentiful, and the service friendly, informative and a little over-concerned...

“Can the honourable foreigner eat chewy chicken?” Yes, he could, and so too could his honourably indigenous dining partner. So it was that we tucked into an admittedly chewy, but thoroughly delicious dish of firm, charcoal grilled momoniku. The smoky flavour rich enough to be interesting, without becoming burdensome. In fact, as we lingered over this and other dishes, it was quite delicious even after becoming cold.

The potato salad was poor, which is to say sloppy – the easy way out is always to rely on the mayonnaise too much. Certainly not as good as the perfectly humble variety served at Isukura. The edamame, too, failed to impress.

The interior was fun though. Packed up front (the space is L-shaped), we’d entered because the crowded counter and side tables suggested that either the food was at least okay, or the prices were very, very cheap; or perhaps a nice combination of the two. The mix of simple tables, 1950s (?) television set and a kind of tobacco/ sweet shop façade seemingly rescued from the set of Always added to the neighborhood Shōwa feel of the place.

There was nothing tired or musty about the gyūreba teki however. Again, the staff were concerned about the esteemed visitor’s ability to eat liver, let alone raw liver – from a cow of all things – but such niggles aside it tasted great. Both the sesame oil and grated ginger complimented the dish perfectly. The potato wedges went down a treat, as they tend to after being silly with the beer.