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 Nomihodai (7)

Wednesday
Sep052012

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.  

Wednesday
Aug292012

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.

 

03-5919-8825

Ichiren

Monday
Mar072011

Seikōen, Shinbashi  正香園、新橋

Seikōen is a chain of Chinese restaurants scattered across traditional salaryman haunts such as Nihonbashi, Tokyo/ Yaesu, Tamachi and Kōjimachi.

They offer a broad menu of “classic” dishes on a canvas of simple, worn interiors and an even more basic concept of service.

The evening of my visit to one of the Shinbashi establishments was marked by rain, and chill winds from the north. 

As such Seikōen – despite its obvious shortcomings – seemed more welcoming than it really is. At least, that is, until my dining partners and I “enjoyed” the friendly service.

And exploding beer glasses…

Luckily, the company of such Tokyo luminaries as Xinlong89 and Tokyoheadhunter, among others, rendered the meal itself secondary to the company.

Respect to Xinlong89 for the deal received – ¥3,000 for three hours of all we could eat and drink. Shame the "spicy" dishes were not really that spicy.

Although, truth be told, the staff seemed somewhat put out at the gusto with which we sought to enjoy the privilege.

Better than a family restaurant? Certainly.

Quality Chinese cuisine? Not on your nelly!

The gyōza - of all things - were actually enjoyable. 

It is what is... Cheap, cheerful (despite the décor) and filling.

The fried rice, perhaps inevitably, went down rather well. 

As did the spring rolls. 

 

Tel: 03-3593-1658

Web: seikouen-cn.com 

Wednesday
Nov242010

Chao Thai, Shibuya  チャオタイ、渋谷

I’m not on a quest for Thai food but, as mentioned before, at times spicier dishes are needed. As time goes by I’ve ended up associating other Asian cuisines with crisper, stronger tastes and a greater variety of vibrantly colourful vegetables than provided when dining at the majority of izakaya. No doubt that which is available is oozing with nasty additives, but the change is at times welcome.

Chao Thai, a small chain scattered across Shibuya (two restaurants, I’ve visited the Dogenzaka one), Ginza, Kawasaki and Yokohama, is worthy of recommendation. First off, it’s cheap and the food is plentiful. The menu is not only heaving but also supplied with an abundance of colourful “oishisou” dishes, described in Thai, Japanese and English.

Prices are exceptionally good, especially if you take in to account the quality of the food (fresh, tasty, reasonably well presented and a little fast-food-y without verging on family restaurant processing) and the quantities in which it is served.

The drinks menu isn’t going to excite a connoisseur, being filled with cheap and cheerful brands and a good selection of lethal tipples, such as the Vietnamese whisky.  The two nomihodai plans, one for ¥1,500 the other for ¥1,800 (offering an extended choice) provide two hours of swilling that when combined with the low cost of the food affords the opportunity to become suitably inebriated and stuffed for under ¥4-5,000. Not bad.

The place is always pretty much packed. Booking helps, or arriving early, say before 7pm. The interior is nothing special, but does the job; clean, tidy, with a sprinkling of Thai art and bamboo without trying to do the “ethnic” thing. Service, all provided by real life Thai people is also okay, fairly swift and for the most lacking in surliness. The staff do get a little too snowed-under at times, and you might find your drinks arriving less promptly than they ought, but a nod and a wink, followed by a pat on the bottom (never) helps speed things up a little. Alternatively, you can just ask nicely.

There was a nicely spicy orange-red soup, packed with vegetables and served in a sturdy earthenware pot, that managed to maintain its flavour rather than packing nothing more than a hot punch to the tongue such as did much of that I ate at Krung Siam. Warming, tasty and not too salty, although a little on the greasy side to my mind, this was particularly welcome now that winter is taking hold.

Roast pork with the usual spicy Thai dipping sauce and piled with lightly fried garlic was both succulent and surprisingly light. No horrid fatty, gristly bits and certainly not dry in that awful re-heated way that the wise come to dread.

The Pak Bung Frie Dang (stir-fried morning glory with chillies, red peppers and something else) provides a good start in terms of vegetation. Makes you feel good, a bit like eating spinach, although less soggy and a great deal more satisfying.

A noodle-y, vermicelli-type dish packed with vegetables and squid was interesting, although the various tastes seemed muddled. The Popia Tod (deep fried spring rolls) are certainly robust, if a little starchy, and provide ballast which is probably much needed if you take on the nomihodai menu with any serious intent.

Rice never hurts, and the fried variety is fun in that it reminds me of post-pub “flied-lice” takeaways when I was still in high school.  This one came topped with slices of omelette and tasteless cucumber.

Some delicious Gai Yang (barbequed chicken) strangely came once on the bone and at the second order as succulent slices. I hate eating with my hands, and love a bit of breast, so the inconsistency was no bad thing. As one of my dining partners has a fetish for tomatoes, we had some topped with onion and garlic in some rich, thick sauce. Not much to say about this but, as with everything else, plenty of it. 

Equally enjoyable was the Hoy Shell Pad Nor Mai Farang, a nice mix of soft, not too chewy, stir-fried scallops, something akin to asparagus, mushrooms and peppers in oyster sauce. The Pad Thai worked for me too, although it verged on fast foodiness.

So where does Chao Thai fit in the ranking of those Thai joints so far posted? In the middle I’d say. Krung Siam seemed more authentic, and certainly the ingredients were better, but the food there was too spicy at the expense of the flavour. Siam Talart was better presented, probably healthier, but lacked excitement. All out do Kaffir Lime, but that's got plenty going for it in a different, funkier way. Chao Thai on the other hand is cheap and cheerful, providing plenty of no-nonsense satisfying dishes, booze and a relaxed, unpretentious atmosphere at very little cost. Due to the large portions, ample menu, and cheap prices I’d suggest that in order to sample enough of what’s on offer it’s best to visit with a crowd.

 

Tel: 03-3463-4000

Sunday
Sep262010

Kudankaikan Beer Garden, Kudanshita  九段会館ビアガーデン、九段下

Having spent most of the summer harping on about the need to fit in some beer garden action, come mid-September I’d still not managed it. For the most part this was due to repeated failed attempts to book those that seemed of interest. More to the point, so late in the season all the best were fully booked until they shut down for the year. Even my once beloved Meiji Kinenkan’s Sekirei Beer Terrace let me down, having gone “Premium,” which basically means it now costs twice what is used to, with no discernable upgrade in service or experience (the food was always pretty crap there anyhow).

Despairing, I thought I might settle for a couple of cans of Nodogoshi on a park bench somewhere, when at the eleventh hour our Dear Leader suggested the Kudankaikan’s rooftop beer garden. It was duly booked.

Situated in Kudanshita, a short frogmarch from the Yasukuni Shrine, this beer garden (on the roof of a 1930s officers’ club), which runs from May through September, offers all-you-can-drink options supplemented by various food sets. Furthermore, as if vats of wine were not enough to occupy even the thirstiest, depending on the day of the week, entertainments are provided. There’s a bunny girl night, Samba, Ladies’ Night and BBQ grill, depending on when you visit. For example, on the night of our visit, the three-girl dance troupe, Shekira, were strutting their non-too shabby stuff. Three girls in sparkly kimono and high leather boots (tradition is not an issue) prance about on stage, sing classic English love songs, and endure the leering and cheering of drunk, balding middle-aged salarymen. Eventually, when the titillation levels are suitably ramped up, the girls rip of their kimono to reveal skimpy, military/manga pop-whore costumes. And then, something to eat?

Our drinks plan, the offering mainly consisting of thinned Kirin beer, cheap red wine and some sours, was accompanied by a yakiniku set per head. It actually turned out to be a fairly generous table that was spread, with plenty of vegetables to turn to charcoal and assorted cuts of beef and pork, mostly of the marbled, fatty variety so highly esteemed in these lands. Not the best yakiniku you’ll ever have, but not the worst either. Besides, it’s meant to line the stomach in order to facilitate the consumption of near lethal quantities of beer, not win Michelin Stars.  

The atmosphere was good. Noisy, cheerful, and lecherous. Service was surprisingly quick considering that the few staff (including a bunny girl) were trying to keep up with orders from a couple of hundred greedy drinkers. Not much more to say. Cheap drinks and food, fun surroundings, good company.

 

Tel: 03-3261-5521

Thursday
Jun102010

Salsa Cabana, Yotsuya  四谷

Just as Tokyo is known for its lack of quality basashi, so too is its lack of decent Mexican food widely acknowledged.

Thus it was that when a colleague of Mexican descent mentioned Yotsuya’s Salsa Cabana I had high hopes. Upon reflection I should have, perhaps, noted his focusing upon the nomihodai drink menu rather than the food…

Just a few minutes walk from Yotsuya station, and just a few doors up the street from the Yotsuya Brewery and just a block down from Shuotan, Salsa Cabana is a fairly cheap, and for the most part cheerful (see later paragraph on alcohol consumption) offering. The restaurant (2nd floor if memory serves) is divided into three parts. Two main rooms on either side of the stair well – the main dining area complete with kitchen etc., is rather basic and off to one side has an open air deck (2nd part) which might be fun in summer –  while the third, more “oshare” (but only barely so) room is on the left of the stairs.

The décor is simple, not worthy of mention, although the room on the left of the stairs has that rather funky smooth white plaster wall look that reminds of Luke Skywalker’s childhood home, or the once famous Nottingham nightclub, The Bomb. Anyhow, you’ll not be visiting for the décor…

… Or the food for that matter. For the most part they serve up small, greasy, ill considered approximations of Mexican food. To be fair, the main menu seems to offer somewhat better dishes than the party plan mush I endured on both (yes, I fell for it twice) occasions, but on the whole it is paltry, not a patch on the delightful stuff served up at Nakameguro’s Junkadelic.

The party plan starts off with some nachos with guacamole, tomato dip, gherkins and shredded carrot. Sure it’s edible but hardly excites. Certainly it causes one to pause. “What next?” you find yourself wondering. Uninspired salad, of lettuce, cucumber, onion and tomato is the answer. Next?

Booze. The nomihodai plan is ridiculously cheap and provided a wide choice of tipples, ranging from tequila, rum, gin and vodka-based indulgencies, to wine, beer and assorted liqueurs. If like me you have a need enjoy your drink this is probably the only high note on an otherwise miserable dining experience. Indeed, on both visits I found my usual lack of alcohol tolerance to have fled (along with my appetite) enabling me to polish off a pitcher or two of luke warm beer and no less that twelve, strong, G&Ts. Not without a fight though…

The staff are a pain. Young, inattentive, and uniformly unable to comprehend that for the average gaijin, nomihodai is a challenge, not a boon. Order a pitcher of beer for yourself (wise, as it’ll be an hour or more before you catch the eye of a waiter again) and they complain that it’ll go flat before you finish it (rubbish, it goes down in a matter of minutes). Order cocktails at a rate of more than one every ten minutes and they start giving you dirty looks. On my second visit, we ended up stuck in the third, empty, section of the restaurant off to the left of the stairs (while the other was packed with several groups of revellers) and had to get up and walk to the other side of the place ourselves to return glasses and order drinks. On that occasion, when I ordered three pitchers (knowing I’d be collecting my pension before we met with the waiter again) the cheeky so and so had the cheek to bring just one. Even when I explained that I said three he ignored me and looked to my Japanese dining partner for solace (thankfully he too had a thirst and supported my rightful indignation).

Anyway, be warned. The drink all you can take plan is good, but you have to make sure you can take full advantage of it. One major problem is that the staff pays far more attention to the large groups of diners that frequent the place (it’s cheap and lends itself to company nights out) than they do smaller groups. You’ll literally be forgotten, or ignored at worst.

Grumble over, back to the food (heaven forefend). As you’ve no doubt guessed, some oily tortillas, enchilada, and fajita. Passable, in the “better than eating at Watami” sense, but only just.

Avoid like the plague. For decent Mexican food go to Junkadelic. For cheap booze, lighter fluid will probably suffice.

 

Tel: 03-3225-1774

Wednesday
Apr142010

Cardenas Chinois, Hiroo  広尾

Another night, another nomihodai deal. This time served up a ten minutes stroll down Meiji Dori from Ebisu station at Hiroo’s Cardenas Chinois. Having been recommended to visit by a couple of esteemed colleagues with formidable knowledge of Tokyo dining, I felt assured of a decent meal, and couldn’t wait to get stuck into what had been described as an extremely generous nomihodai selection of drinks.

The décor was fairly pleasant; modern, dark, warm wood and yellowish low level lighting. On the evening of my visit customers were thin on the ground, no doubt because most folk were busy with O-hanami. Upon being seated, the young besuited waiter promptly explained the food and drink menus. The food menu offered an amuse followed by a selection of fusion dishes to choose from for the appetiser 1, appetiser 2, main dish, and desert served with coffee. The drink menu provided a selection of vodka, gin and rum based cocktails, (pedestrian) wines red and white, sparkling wine, beer, and others beverages that now escape me, from which my dining partner and I were free to order at will for a couple of hours.

So, four courses and unlimited drinks for ¥4,500. Things could have been worse. The time limit on the nomihodai function can be extended by 30 minutes for ¥500, should you feel so inclined.

After swigging two or three glasses of the sparkling wine, we then proceeded to work through one of the reds. My glass was, happily, replenished the moment it became empty. Indeed, throughout the course of the evening the waiter was more than happy to swiftly take (and serve) our drink orders.

An amuse of carrot puree with dry bread, drizzled with olive oil, set the meal off. For the first appetiser I had small slices of duck, while my dining partner tucked into a good-sized heap of Chinese chicken salad. Both were tasty enough, and the salad was actually rather filling. The duck, however, left me wishing for more. Never a nice feeling.

These were followed by pasta. A thimble full. Tasty as it was, it barely provided two mouthfuls. If, like me, you are of the opinion that pasta should only ever be served in 500g portions (or multiples thereof), you’ll understand how frustrating trying to eke out this part of the meal was.

The main course, although still not big enough for my liking, went some way to making up for the miserly serving of pasta. My nicely seared, pink, succulent Auzzie steak was delicious. Unfortunately the mashed potato that accompanied it was nothing short of foul. I’d bet good money that it started the evening as a packet of ready mix. My dining partner had opted for the seafood risotto. Again, a bit on the small side, but tasty, especially the little shrimp.

Tiring of the wine, we proceeded to make short work of half a dozen G&Ts, which somehow went rather well with the cheesecake and chocolate cake, served with a few pieces of fruit and cream (foam), we had selected for desert.

For the price, especially considering the unlimited access to the booze, one can’t really complain. The meal was enjoyable, being cooked and presented well enough, with plenty of choice on the menu. My main gripe is that everything was just a little too much on the small side.

Atmosphere, air (non-smoking) and service were both fine, especially when the surrounding tables filled up a bit. Reasonable mix of clientele, perhaps weighted toward dating couples. Overall, an enjoyable evening’s drinking with dainty culinary highlights.

 

Tel: 03-5447-1287

Web: http://www.cardenas.co.jp/chinois/