...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 Izakaya (6)


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. 


Toritetsu, Tokiwadai  とり鉄、常盤台

For some reason I’d got it into my head that Toritetsu was a local affair. Actually it’s a sprawling chain covering much of the archipelago. It seems somehow less formulaic than many of the better known, much reviled chains that spring to mind. 

On the night my dining partner and I ventured in, it was packed. “Must be good,” said I. Turns out that the crowd had gathered to take advantage of an “everything for ¥100 night,” the menu’s specials included.  

Truth be told, Toritestu does a lot of “special” nights. There’s ladies’ night, men’s night, pensioners’ night, Thursday night, Friday night, etc. You get the picture. 

Bubbly staff and a cozy atmosphere went a long way to making the evening an enjoyable one, despite the length of time between orders placed and orders served... 

The food - for the most part yakitori standards - isn’t going to win any awards, but it’s not going to put you off the stuff either. I should know. After a month or so of almost nothing but yakitori I should be sick of the stuff. 

The otoshi, a very soft, creamy dollop of tofu, was quite tasty but almost impossible to eat with chopsticks. On the verge of punching someone after five minutes with it, spoons seemed in order.  

Many of the skewered morsels were on the teeny side. The ginko nuts especially so. The liver was tender, but pretty tasteless, too.

As far as budget yakitori goes, the sasami - plum and wasabi-topped - wasn’t bad. The tsukune was reasonable, and the slices of raw chicken flesh safe but a little bland. 

Better than Watami, not a patch on Kappa-chan.







Japan Eats Podcast 13: In Praise of Izakaya

The recording of a beer-fuelled, izakaya related conversation - ranging from chain restaurants to Donald Richie - with Messrs. Lovitt and Pellegrini of Japan Eats fame is now available here:


and in iTunes here (Podcast 1):


Recorded last month while dining at Koikuchiya, Shimo-Igusa. 



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. 





Ebisu Kaigan, Ebisu  恵比寿海岸,恵比寿

Reviews elsewhere had led to me to high expectations of Ebisu Kaigan, and in all honesty they were not met. To be fair, the evening upon which we chose to visit was thoroughly miserable; pouring rain, and a chill wind (yes, back in the cold spell in mid-November 2009). I suppose, shivering and dripping at the time, I had hoped to be bathed in glorious, warming golden light upon opening the door to the place, or something like that.

Actually, it’s a cozy enough little place. Not exactly spacious, three plain wooden tables surrounded by folding chairs and old metal stools fill the main floor – raised up from the level of the genkan with its rusting diving helmet – to the rear of which is an L-shaped counter that can seat around seven or eight at a push. Interior décor is basic; hanging bamboo blinds, the odd poster or picture here and there, rough wooden floor, and assorted bottles of shōchū upon the counter. The second floor is somewhat better presented with a cleaner, more traditional Japanese appearance. Cushions to sit on before low, polished wooden tables and plaster walls framed with dark wooden beams.

Throughout the course of the evening the service was excellent. Attentive, accommodating and, most importantly, prompt. The jibīru (regional beer), Ebisu Kaigan, was interesting, richer in terms of both colour and taste than the usual Japanese beer (which is thoroughly enjoyable!), and yet hardly anything to write home about. A glass suffices. 

The O-toshi of mussels in broth was tasty, although a little overpowering in terms of flavour. A huge plate of katsuo – thick, meaty slices – with spring onion was excellent, if for the volume alone. A small bowl of salted ginnan made a pleasant compliment to the Yebisu beer, while the jakoten proved to be both bland and uninspiring in terms of presentation, perhaps unavoidable for mashed fish….

The tsukemono were fairly pedestrian, the gobo (burdock) being painfully soft whereas they should have been crunchy, the cucumber, daikon and carrots fair, the quail's eggs delicious.

As for the sake, the Nakaya, hailing from Shizuoka and purportedly made from water flowing from peerless Fuji itself, was pleasantly dry. A plate of hirame sashimi, a white-fleshed fish served with the usual shredded daikon, shisō leaves and wasabi was reasonable, although my gut reaction was that it was average in terms of presentation and taste. The moyashi (bean sprouts) and sweet corn in sesame oil was utterly delicious, but then goma is an awfully naughty flavour, hard to resist… A forgettable salad of assorted vegetables followed, before the arrival of a simple, yet tasty, plate of yakisoba containing fried squid, cabbage, carrots, peppers and bean sprouts.

All this was rounded off with several glasses of mugi-jōchū, in particular the Tajibei, from Kagoshima.

Not a bad izakaya, although not great either. As mentioned  earlier, I felt somewhat disappointed. I had been under the impression that Ebisu Kaigan specialised in fish and other sea food (perhaps because of the bright red rowing boat propped up outside the building?) but as it turns out the menu consists of the usual izakaya fare and is not particularly weighted towards fish. A good selection of shōchū is available, but as I'm not a huge fan this did little to appease my overall disappointment. Certainly an establishment capable of better things. Couldn’t help feeling it had seen better days and / or been allowed to slip. If in the area - about seven minutes walk from the west exit of Ebisu station up Komazawa Dōri in the direction of Nakameguro and Daikanyama – worth a visit, perhaps, but not on the top re-visit list. 


Tel: 03-3710-0778



Suishin, Shimbashi  醉心、新橋

Having wasted the first part of the evening at Hainan Chi-Fan, my dining partner and I trudged through the sodden streets of Shimbashi, umbrellas colliding with the low level shop signs, worried that all the good izakaya would already be full. Wet and hungry I was in no mood to spend much time in finding somewhere dry to eat and drink. Taking a side street not far from the station I spotted a busy looking little place, two floors, the open door providing a glimpse of a warm looking counter and kitchen. Hungry, we hastened inside Suishin.

Depositing our umbrellas in the rack by the door, we were ushered upstairs to the second floor. Not a large place, Suishin’s décor is pretty basic. Simple wooden floors and tables and plaster walls yellowed with decades of cigarette smoke. I’d guess the interior has not changed since the early-eighties at least. The place was packed, all middle-aged salarymen and only one woman among them. Squeezing our way through the jovial crowd of heavy-smoking, heavy-drinking diners we slumped into our seats at a table in the far corner of the room.

Beers ordered, we gave the menu a brief glance. Nothing fancy, your average izakaya fare. Prices seemed a little more than average. Rummaging around in my bag for notebook and camera – you think blogging about izakaya is all fun and games? – my dining partner ordered a selection of dishes from the waitress who had just brought an o-toshi of slimy green okura (okra) with katsuo-bushi (bonito flakes.) The meal started off with my usual oshinko-moriawase of pickled cucumber, carrots, daikon and takuan. Served on a small white dish, this assortment of pickles, although small, looked good enough, and tasted reasonable. Nothing special, but enjoyable all the same. Two skewers of tender chicken sasami grilled with a wasabi sauce coating were pleasant enough, although best eaten while still hot. The menu contains nothing special in the way of salads, and so we opted for a kaisen-sarada (seafood salad), consisting of poorly presented tuna, squid, lettuce, carrot, nuts and seaweed that overall was far too wet. Indeed, the lettuce was so soaked that is had taken on that awful semi-rotten black-green veiny look. The pieces of tuna were small, and I don’t even remember the squid. The parlous state of the salad was made up for by a small plate of ika-yaki (grilled squid) on a bed of lettuce leaves, and a nice dollop of mayonnaise into which the squid was dipped. Fresh and tasty, the slightly chewy texture of squid was enjoyable.

Eager to numb my senses I turned to the sake list. Nothing of note, just a small selection of various grades of Suishin. I made the mistake of ordering the Suishin Taruzake (Suishin sake from the barrel) twice. A non-descript, rough tasting drink served at room temperature in a stubby little glass, with not a drop overflowing into the wooden masu. Having by this point come to the conclusion that this izakaya was rather uninspiring, despite the lively, warm atmosphere, we decided to stick to simple dishes. A moro-kyū (bashed cucumber) arrived with a strong tasting ume (plum) sauce. In fact this was not really moro-kyū, being unbashed, but was edible. The chicken karaage, a few small morsels in a basket with a slice of lemon, was similarly pedestrian. Still desiring sake I then tried the Suishin Namazake (“raw” unrefined sake). This came in a large ni-gō glass tokuri. Nicely chilled, it was much preferable to that I had ordered previously. Content to concentrate on becoming drunk, I barely noticed the small bowl of tako-kimuchi (octopus mixed with kimchi), and then decided bring an end to the meal with yaki-onigiri (baked rice balls) served with two little slices of takuan.

Not exactly the best izakaya I have ever been to. The atmosphere seemed to promise more, and the service was reasonable if not friendly enough. The food itself was rather disappointing, small and over-priced. Despite all this, I can’t be too harsh in my appraisal of Suishin. It is what is. An average, old, simple izakaya intended for salarymen more intent on drinking and talking rather than fine dining. The food is merely a supplement to the more important business of drink and after-hours shoptalk.

I’ll not be making a second visit.