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 Odakyu Line (9)

Saturday
Aug142010

Mitsuyadoseimen, Shimo-Kitazawa ミッ矢堂製麺,下北沢

Following the sad discovery of the Frisco Grill’s demise, I wandered the streets of Shimo-Kitazawa forlorn. Sure, I was pissed off that the burger I wanted to eat was beyond my reach, but I was also gagging for a beer. And that only made me think of Masako, and how cruel the world, well Japanese train operators/construction companies, can be.

Anyway, before too long I passed a tsukemen place, and as it was packed I figured it must either be really cheap, pretty good, or perhaps a bit of both. So it was that I ended up having cold noodles dipped in a soup of my choice at Mitsuya-Doseimen.

It’s a chain, something to do with the Mitsuya people that make “cider,” I guess. Simple shop, clean, wood floors and plain walls adorned with beer posters. No smoking before 5pm, plenty of old folk and families slurping their noodles. Fairly wide range of dishes on offer, but I was hungry and in no mood for deliberation. The spicy looking tan-tan goma (sesame) tsukemen looked good.

And so it was. ¥980 for a well proportioned bowl (although the price is set, you can opt for a small, medium or large portion) of cold, firm, slightly flat noodles topped with onion and some kind of leaf. This was accompanied by a bowl of orange, spicy Thai tan-tan-like soup, laced with good clean bits of chicken. It was just spicy enough to please, without overpowering the taste of the noodles themselves. Beer was overpriced.

I don’t know much about noodles, certainly not as much as this Cowboy, but I came away full and happy, despite having worn a paper bib…

 

Tel: 03-5790-8038

Saturday
Aug142010

Frisco Charcoal Grill, Shimo-Kitazawa  下北沢

Frisco Charcoal Grill was a wonderful little hole in the wall burger joint in Shimo-Kitazawa. A friend introduced me to the Frisco Grill, enticing me with tales of freshly made, lovingly crafted burgers and an interesting chef. His description was spot on.

Almost impossible to locate unless you were in the know, the Frisco Grill was hidden away at the end of a narrow alley loomed over by dilapidated buildings, its entrance unassuming. The tiny interior too – white walls, black stools and a basic kitchen dominated by a large grill – was unassuming too. The only real decoration were a few framed photos of San Francisco scenes, and newspaper cuttings and reviews about the shop, such was its fame.

The story behind the place was simple yet charming, very much like the menu. The owner-chef, “Mike” had spent around 40 years in the U.S. working in sales. Finally, once his kids had been put through college, he decided to return to Japan and fulfil his dream – to open a burger bar serving good to honest “real” American burgers. I don’t know if they were exactly like “real” American burgers, but they were very good. Apparently, “Mike” scoured the land for a bakery that could make bread rolls (buns, baps, cobs, whatever you choose to call them…) to his liking, and had fresh Australian beef delivered from which he made the burgers. He made a set amount each day, and when all sold, he shut up shop.

The Frisco Grill was tiny; probably no more than seven or eight diners could be accommodated at any one time. The menu was very simple, a few options of toppings – lettuce, cheese, gherkins, tomato, onion, mustard etc, etc. – and stacks of pates, and some lunch sets providing variations on the basic burger together with crinkle cut fries and a soft drink. Draft beer was available too. Certainly the choice on offer was severely limited when compared to the plethora of exciting, even outlandish, variations on the burger between bread that places such as Giggle provide. But that was the point, or so I like to believe.

The bread tasted fresh and bready. Not dry, and robust enough so as not to become floppy once encasing a perfectly grilled, meaty burger. Neither too thin nor too thick the meat itself was free of gristle or otherwise unidentifiable chewy bits, and tasted like real food. Not processed, frozen or warmed up from the day before. The lettuce, tomato and cheese were standard, but again fresh. Nothing more or less than they should be. The fries, crisp, not oily and actually surprisingly potatoey were rather good too. I’ll say it again; really simple, really fresh, really well made and really, really tasty.

So it was that when I headed there for lunch today I was dismayed to find the Frisco Grill is no more. At first I though I’d got the wrong street, maybe the wrong alley. A walked around a little, checked, asked a gypsy woman. Eventually plucking up courage, I headed down the alley, and sure enough could see the shop sign peeping from behind the plywood nailed over the entrance. Just as friends, lovers, even spouses, come and go, so too do great eateries. The Frisco Charcoal Grill is no more. Just like dear Masako, another Shimo-Kita gem is lost.

A little glum, I had no choice but to lunch elsewhere and so ended up sucking cold noodles at Mitsuya-Douseimen, before returning home. Once safely plugged back into my Mac, the Google pixies provided me with news, from this gentleman here, that the Frisco Grill closed just last month, as the building in which it was concealed is to be demolished, but will (happily) arise phoenix like once again. Certainly hope so.

 

Tel: 03-3468-5744

Friday
Aug132010

Amiyakitei, Chitose-Funabashi  あみやき亭、千歳船橋

If you happen to be in the Chitose-Funabashi area, and both Hisaya and Sazaya are closed – or even Zanpa no Kaze for that matter – you might (and it’s a BIG might) want to give Amiyakitei a try. Housed in what used to be one of those box-like Royal Host family restaurants, Amiyakitei is a roadside yakiniku-ya on Kampachi Dori, about 10 minutes from Chitose-Funabashi station. It’s big, green and has plenty of parking spaces underneath it, making it perfect for families with those big white people carriers to pull up and feed their hungry kids.

It feels pretty much like a family restaurant. Lots of tables, semi-private booths really, done in dark faux-marble with the grill set into them, and even a raised tatami area that seems popular for parties. The size of the place makes it feel somewhat uncomfortable, like being in a big factory cafeteria I suppose.

Just inside the entrance, near the drink, salad and cake bars (sounds like a Harvester doesn’t it?) are posted upon the wall certification of the meat being served that day. It gives the region from which it originates and an official tracking number, so that all may be assured that they are eating good honest Japanese cow, and not anything imported from dangerous foreign farms (no, not those in Miyazaki prefecture…) that might cause mutation – or worse – if ingested.

The service is fairly brisk, allowing the place to deal with a lot of customers. As mentioned, it’s popular with families, so there are plenty of kids and thus plenty of noise. Bizarrely, your first order must be made by filling in an order slip. You just tick the boxes and hand it to the staff. Perhaps they use this data to analyse customers’ preferences. From what saw, most have a preference for the all-you-can-eat salad bar, complimented by several plates of oily, fatty meat, and followed up by several visits to the all-you-can-eat cake bar.

The menu provides the usual yakiniku staples as wells as plated of vegetables and rice dishes such as bibimba. Each table is provided with a dizzying array of dipping sauces and condiments, along with helpful instructions on which sauces go best with different cuts of meat, and how best to mix them. I suppose this says something about the declining knowledge of national food culture among younger generations…

When I visited, back in October of last year, the place had only recently opened and as such they were throwing away promotions with reckless abandon. I ended up with a voucher entitling me to a full-sized bottle of shochu, Satsuma Kobiki, on my second visit. Not particularly good, but free is not a bad thing either.

The salad bar offers up lettuce, daikon, seaweed, sweet corn, potato salad, egg salad, tomato, cucumbers and some fruit, such as pineapple. All, except the fruit, were a little too vinegary. It’s tabehodai, although they politely request you eat all that your pile your plate with, so as not to cause waste.

Prices are reasonable, although to my mind the cuts of meat were on the small side. At the time, I felt Amiyakitei didn’t compare favourably with Genkaya, but in recent months even that once splendid yakiniku-ya seems to be trying to increase profits by serving less.

And what of the meat? The tongue was bland, and even the lemon juice failed to bring out any flavour. The sanchu, big green leaves in which to wrap your freshly grilled meat, were not the freshest I’ve seen, although there was plenty of it. The rosu and karabi were both adequate, but too oily. The salmon onigiri were very salty, and no better than those bought from a convenience store. The cake bar, offered “cute” little cubes of cheesecake, and other flavours such as chocolate and strawberry.

Not the best yakiniku I’ve had, but then again not the worst either. Not in any rush to go back.

 

Tel:03-5799-2929

Wednesday
Oct142009

Hisaya, Chitose-Funabashi  久弥、千歳船橋

Situated about a minutes walk from the Odakyu line’s Chitose-Funabashi station, Hisaya is a small, local izakaya specializing in quality izakaya fare with a focus on fish and tempura. Having dined there several times over the years, I can safely say that the quality of the food remains consistently good.

From the simple wooden shop front, sliding door with noren hanging before it, to the narrow counter, open kitchen and few small tables in the main room everything

about this izakaya is understated. The one feature that stands out – besides the food – is a raised koshitsu, with tatami mat flooring and two low-level tables, at the rear of the shop. Admittedly a little cramped and harsh on the legs, it is nevertheless an enjoyable position from which to enjoy a meal. Indeed, for groups of three to four people it is probably the best, if not only, option. The décor overall is looking a little dated, wallpaper in pastel pinks and peaches for example, but then again this is not the kind of place one visits in search of Tokyo chic. My one real complaint would be the music played. Although quiet, it is pretty awful. So much so, that my mind seems to have blocked it from memory, though it was some definitely out of place in this kind of izakaya.

Hisaya is very much a family affair. The master, Hisashi-san, manages the place with his wife, and table service is provided by one of their young relatives, a niece I assume, who is usually to be found clad in yukata. Hisashi-san worked for some years in a famous restaurant here in Tokyo before striking out on his own and establishing Hisaya. It is his formal, high-end training and experience that set his shop’s food apart from that usually encountered in neighbourhood izakaya. Many locals assume that the izakaya is named after Hisaya Morishige  – a famous actor and TV presenter who lives locally – but the name is actually derived from parts of the master’s and his wife’s names.

The menu offers a nice, although perhaps somewhat limited, selection of izakaya classics as well as a similarly limited selection of sake, shōchū, beer and umeshū. On this particular occasion we commenced the evening with several glasses of draught Sapporo beer, after which the ladies enjoyed some of apparently excellent homemade umeshū which contained huge swollen plumbs that when eaten can cause sudden drunkenness. The men, once tired of beer, moved on to sake, with the Koshi no Kagetora, produce of Niigata, being rather enjoyable. Suitably dry, but not too much so, it went down a little too easily… When sake is ordered the waitress brings a basket of o-choko (sake cups) from which you can choose one to your liking.

With our initial drinks, an attractively presented o-toshi of three small appetizers was served upon a “walled” lacquer tray. These dainty morsels were: A small, jelly-like cube of tofu and uni (sea urchin) in some kind of stock, which although pleasant in terms of texture and appearance tasted too “fishy” for my liking; a fantastic tasting dish of shungiku (garland chrysanthemum) with sesame; and some pink tarako (fish eggs), which although not something I’m overly fond of was edible all the same.

The first dish of the meal proper was also probably the best. An absolutely faultless sashimi-moriawase, beautifully presented on a tsuma (the bed of leaves, vegetables etc. upon which sashimi is served) of shredded daikon, carrot and shiso leaves. Five slices each of seven different fish were presented: saba (mackerel), tai (sea bream), aji (jack), kanpachi (amberjack), maguro (tuna), kohada (medium-sized gizzard shad) and ika (squid). All were superb, being fresh, tasty and perfectly prepared. If I had to choose, then the tai was my favourite and, surprisingly, I’d say the maguro was the most disappointing. At around ¥2,000 this sashimi was truly excellent value.

A selection of pickles – cucumber, Japanese ginger, turnip, yellow pickled radish (takuan) and zasai (seasonal vegetables) – complimented the sake and gave us something to nibble until the tempura arrived. Served in a bamboo basket, it consisted of delicious, light tempura of shiso, mushroom, renkon (lotus root), shrimp, sweet potato, shishito (little green peppers) and aubergine, with a dipping sauce of bonito stock, soy sauce and grated daikon. Another excellent dish, though (and as with all the others that followed) in terms of size it is intended for one or two people and as such barely suffices for larger parties.

A plate of lightly seared kamo (duck) came next. Thin slices, the meat itself a mouth-watering purple-pink and the flamed skin salted, served with grilled leek, sliced daikon, cress and lemon. Highly recommendable, but yet again I wish there had been more of it! The iwashi no bainiku hasami age, sardine and mashed plum wrapped in seaweed and fried in a light batter, was superb. This was served not only with lemon and small green peppers, but also the deep-fried spines of the fish, which are delicate, crispy and utterly moreish. We concluded the meal with steaming bowls of kishi-men, flat noodles in a spicy soup containing bonito and leaves. The rich spicy taste was a welcome change, although the soup was near scalding when served and took sometime before it was safe to eat.

So, not a bad dish among them. Carefully prepared and presented, fresh and tasty. A little on the small side, but as they are intended to serve one or two, rather than a group, this can be forgiven. Indeed, overall Hisaya is more suited to a relaxed evening of drinking and light dining on select dishes than a heavier meal for larger groups. The atmosphere is calm and fairly friendly, although the master, his wife and waitress tend to concentrate on preparing and serving the food rather than banter with customers. Not exactly cheap but hardly expensive either, when the quality of the food is considered Hisaya is very good value. The sashimi-moriawase alone is worth the visit.

 

Tel: 03-3420-3492

Saturday
Oct102009

Giggle, Soshigaya-Okura  Giggle、祖師ケ谷大蔵

GIGGLE is a rather funky little basement burger and beer bar located some way down the main shōten-gai off Soshigaya-Okura station. Famous for Ultraman, hence the ghastly statue of him outside the station, the town is not exactly one of the funkiest parts of Tokyo. GIGGLE goes some way to remedying the situation. 

Once inside the bar is actually much larger than you might imagine. Plenty of tables and chairs, and a small bar with high stools in front. The bar itself is rather appealing, with various knick-knacks, toys, and bottles arranged upon it. Pumps serve draught Bass Pale Ale, Hoegaarden and Asahi beer. Above the bar tins of canned food, American I’m guessing, add some colour while behind the bar rows of spirits promise warm oblivion. 

The room itself is simply decorated. Bare concrete walls covered in beer and burger posters, collections of British beer mats and football team badges, shelves with books and magazines and rows of empty beer bottles. Two large glass-fronted refrigerators house an impressive away of world beers. In the background, folksy American guitar plays and the friendly staff busy themselves taking orders and supplying customers with well-stacked burgers. The atmosphere is truly relaxed, funky, kind of cute and probably more befitting areas such as Kichijōji, Shimo-Kitazawa or Harajuku.

The menu offers up an impressive variety of traditional burgers as well as some novel variations on the theme, such as the crushed-pepper burger. Toppings and additions can be requested at your pleasure. Other dishes include fish and chips, nachos, fried chicken, salads, taco rice and some rather naughty looking chocolate cake.

The drink menu is also enticing. Besides a good selection of teas, coffees, fruit juice, soft drinks, spirits and cocktails a truly awesome range of world beers is presented. Most I’d never even heard of, and indeed half the fun of the place was reading the descriptions of each and admiring the bottle and label designs.

Some of the beers were: Corona Extra; Salitos; Heineken; Newton; Warfeiner; Samuel Adams; Becks; Brooklyn Lager; Satan Red; Pink Killer (a fruit beer); Leffe; Pilsner; Mongozo Coconut Beer; Mongozo Banana Beer; Chimay; Duval; Red Stripe; St. Sebastian; Carilo; Orval; Delirium Tremens and Guinness, from countries such as: Germany; US; Belgium; Mexico; Africa; Australia; the Netherlands; Jamaica; Ireland and Britain, to name but a few. The prices of the more exotic beers can be a little steep, ranging from ¥900 – ¥1200 per bottle (and the bottles are not always large.) More pedestrian offerings, such as the Asahi are more reasonable with the daijoki coming in at ¥880 and the smaller “lunch beer” at ¥300. Some of the beers are very strong, as much as 9.2% ABV.

Various lunch-set deals are on offer, and there’s a happy hour from 5-7pm each evening, during which beer becomes substantially cheaper.

So, what of the burgers? I went for the chili-cheese burger served with potato wedges. I have to say that it was not only huge, but also fresh, clean and cooked to perfection. This formidable stack of goodness contained lettuce, onion, buffalo tomato and a thick burger of lean juicy meat on top of which was plenty of chili-con-carne and melted cheese. The potato wedges were also delicious, although I think the dish could have benefited from a few more of them. A delicious, if messy affair, and at ¥1,000 pretty good value for money.

My dining partner opted for the salsa burger, also served with potato wedges, which consisted of the same ingredients as my chili-cheese burger with the salsa replacing the chili-con-carne and cheese. Again, a devilishly tasty burger. That said, and I’m not really one for burgers especially from certain famous chains, after eating them we felt no regrets. The burgers at GIGGLE are fresh, handmade, contain “real” / natural ingredients and were not at all oily.

I’d certainly go back for more. A good place for a quick lunch, and I’m also of the opinion that the bar – especially during happy hour – would make a good spot to settle down with a book and a glass or two for a few hours. Although I’ve yet to try GIGGLE of an evening, I get the distinct impression that it would be a lot of fun. Indeed, it reminds me of some of the café-bars in my native England. The thought of spending a night there sampling the beers, after dining on burgers, is strangely appealing.

Open from 11.30am – 11.30pm (last orders at 11pm), closed on Wednesdays. Take away menu available.

 

Update 28/10/09: After a couple of subsequent visits I can safely say that the quality of the food, especially the cheese burger and clam chowder, remains consistently good as does the service. Weekends are noticeably busier and as such the atmosphere improves too.  

Update 29/11/09: Having now tried spending an evening at Giggle, I can safely say it's a lot of fun, if perhaps a bit quiet. They could do with dimming the lights a little too, so as to create a more cozy ambience. Food was splendid yet again, and some of the beers very tasty. The apple beer is probably best avoided though. Service was good, even though the staff seemed confused by our wanting to settle in for the night and use the place in the manner more usual for izakaya / restaurants. 

 

Tel: 03-3789-4232

 

Thanks to the ladies over at 8Tokyo.com for the photo of the entrance.

Tuesday
Sep082009

Uoshin, Shimo-Kitazawa  魚真、下北沢

Yet another interesting izakaya at the far end of the shōtengai leading away from the south exit of Shimo-Kitazawa station, not far from Uokisuisan, Uoshin offers plenty of fresh fish and other izakaya staples complimented by a lively atmosphere and busy service.

Whenever I’ve passed by of an evening Uoshin has been packed. Any day of the week. Its façade of simple, tall windows looking in on a faux Shōwa-era fish-market izakaya interior always seemed inviting. Deciding to give it a try, we headed there on a recent Thursday evening to be greeted at the door by a waitress in blue monpe. Entering in, I was surprised to find a small, well-appointed and practically deserted sushi-bar fitted out with a gleaming pale-wood counter and washitsu to the rear of the shop. As the waitress guided us to a table, I whispered with some urgency to my dining partner that this was not the crowded, lively looking izakaya we had just seen and imagined ourselves to be entering.

Explaining our mistake, while offering apologies for not on this particular evening being in the mood for sushi, we beat a less than hasty retreat (hard to bow and make haste at the same time). Realizing the source of our confusion, the sushi chef pointed out that this was indeed part of the izakaya, and any items from its menu could also be served here in the sushi shop. Pleasant enough as this might have been, we were not in the mood for such quiet surroundings and insisted on going next door to the izakaya proper. Still, to have a small sushi bar attached to an izakaya is an interesting concept, and no doubt helps to soak up customers when the main rooms of Uoshin are filled to capacity. Back on the street we walked further along the shop front to the main entrance and stepped into the warm, noisy interior. Shown quickly to a seat at the large U-shaped counter that surrounds a decidedly industrial-looking open kitchen, we ordered beer, large bottles of chilled Yebisu, to sip while taking in our surroundings.

Uoshin’s décor is simple; wooden floors, white plaster walls framed in dark wood, plenty of tables and chairs in small semi-private alcoves and rooms, visible through sliding glass-panelled doors, off the main dining floor which is itself dominated by the large kitchen and surrounding counter. Walls are decorated with black and white photos of fish markets and fishmongers wielding gigantic freshly caught fish – hinting at Uoshin’s connection to a Tsukiji fish wholesaler – occasional signatures from famous patrons and hand-written recommendations from the menu. Above the counter all around the periphery of the kitchen similar slips of paper display in bold characters choice dishes while the kitchen itself, a hectic jumble of stainless steel shelves, ovens, refrigerators and cooking utensils, is “decorated” with rows of hanging dried fish (himono). The counter, although large, was rather crowded and decorated with small china temple dogs. 

A second round of Yebisu was accompanied by a small basket of eda-mame (salted boiled broad beans in the pod) and a large plate of sashimi, six thick succulent slices each of wonderfully fresh katsuo (bonito) and buri (yellowtail) resting on a bed of shredded daikon (radish) and shisō (perilla) leaves. Beside the sashimi little piles of wasabi, shōga (ginger), wakame (seaweed) and myōga (Japanese ginger) were arranged ready to be mixed into small dishes of shōyu (soy sauce). Both sashimi were tasty, especially when eaten with wakame, and devoid of that slightly icy “just out of the freezer” texture that so often is associated with large (water-swollen) portions. 

Trying to choose a salad from the menu while being interrupted every few minutes by a waitress pushing in beside me to serve other diners at the counter (an eclectic mix of salarymen, students, dating couples, and lonely looking thirty-something office-ladies) was somewhat annoying, but considering how crowded the place was this can perhaps be overlooked. Throughout the course of the evening the service was prompt, to the point and friendly. Returning to the salad, we eventually settled on the kamaage shirasu to iwanori no sarada. This surprisingly tasty, if rather small, dish consisted of plenty of tiny white baby fish (shirasu), a variety of seaweed (iwanori), lettuce, daikon, and onion (tamanegi) topped with dried nori. Indeed, compared with the usual soggy abominations of tuna (maguro) scraps, limp lettuce and mayonnaise one often encounters in izakaya specializing in fish this salad was nothing short of marvellous. 

At this point in the meal sake seemed appropriate (why eating salad always seems to herald sake I have no idea) and as such we began our investigation of the dozen or so on offer with the Kukurei and Shirakami. Both were served from the bottle before our very eyes, poured into pleasingly large glasses. My only complaint was the lack of masu and usual overflow of sake they prompt. Neither of these sake were smooth, although the Shirakami was the more drinkable of the two, but were enjoyable all the same. The Dassai, an old favourite of mine and produce of Yamaguchi prefecture, was sweeter tasting and reassuringly mellow. Unfortunately the Jōkigen, this time from Yamagata prefecture, while decidedly drier than the others was fairly tasteless.

Hungry again, and determined to try something “different”, we next had a small dish of vivid pink hamo no karage (fried sea eel) covered in a strong-tasting sauce derived from pickled plum (ume). Different certainly, but I found the flavour a little overpowering after a while and so had no option but to wash it down with a little more sake, this time the rough-tasting pale yellow Yūho and the even rougher Hidakami. These induced an unwelcome light-headedness that was only somewhat cured after gulping down a bowl of o-cha-zuke (rice in hot tea), which to my horror contained ikura (salmon roe). The intrusion of the ikura aside, this dish was actually rather good and made interesting by its unusual orange colouring. An incredibly small portion of udon (juicy wheat-flour noodles), served on a bamboo tray with a bowl of ponzu sauce containing chives and ice, failed to impress and most definitely failed to stop the room from spinning. Admitting defeat at the hands of the sake menu we took our leave.

 

Tel: 03-3419-5584

Friday
May152009

Totoshigure, Shimo-Kitazawa  ととしぐれ、下北沢

Part of the SubLime group of izakaya, Totoshigure is another fine addition to the Shimo-Kitazawa dining scene, some eight minutes stroll down the full length of the main shopping street out of the south exit of the station. Totoshigure is instantly recognizable for its long shop front covered in hanging blue noren, barrels displaying food and small bench like tables at which patrons may dine, more or less in the street. This izakaya had caught my attention several weeks ago due to the interesting façade.

The entrance, hidden behind the noren, is a low – one must practically crouch to pass through – sliding wooden door that leads into a narrow stone genkan (entrance hall) before a long raised floor of wood upon which low level tables are set. Dotted around this dining area are more open barrels displaying vegetables, creating an inviting wholesome look to the place. Lighting is low-key, with the main illumination centred upon the counter and open kitchen to the left of the room and a second, smaller, counter and bar to the right. The bar itself seems suited to a nightclub rather than an izakaya, but a little modernity never hurts I suppose. Pale plaster walls decorated with prints of fish, a decidedly “industrial” looking ceiling and the busy kitchen of stainless steel before which, above the counter, are arranged fish, vegetables and other food stuffs on ice, all add to the atmosphere. This atmosphere was somewhat let down, however, by the dance music playing in the background. Well staffed, there indeed seemed so many waiting staff that they at times seemed at a loss for something to do, the service if friendly and efficient. Indeed, at one point, I had barely picked up the sake menu before a girl was at my side trying to take my order. A little over eager, perhaps?

As usual, once initial beers and other drinks were served we began to order from the menu in earnest, there being a good selection of delicious sounding dishes on offer, with the focus being on fish and other seafood. Beginning with an appetizer of large, chunky slices of cucumber with a mayonnaise dip, we then enjoyed the maguro matsuri (tuna festival), a moriawase of different maguro sashimiōtoro, chūtoro, akami – pleasantly presented upon sliced daikon, carrot and fresh green shiso (perilla) leaves, with wasabi, salt and finely-chopped spring onion to the side. The slices of fish themselves were of a decent size and all were fresh, rather than having the slightly iced, “recently out of the freezer,” texture that is all too prevalent in many izakaya. This was swiftly followed by yet more tuna, the maguro tataki, raw, mashed and mixed with spring onion, carrot and wasabi. Simple. Delicious.

Moving on from tuna, the tempura of Yanaka shōga (ginger plant) was tasty, the tempura batter light, and the flavour of the ginger being nicely complimented by the dipping salt. On the whole though, the plant itself was rather stringy, resulting in those of us around the table spending much of the rest of the evening trying to discreetly pick it from our teeth. A delicious, moist, salad followed containing egg, fish, leaves and an assortment of vegetables, although I was by this time absorbed with the sake menu rather than remembering to take detailed notes on the constitution of said salad. The selection of sake is somewhat limited, there being eight on offer, although favourites such as Kubota, Hakkaisan and Masumi are all present and reasonably priced. Served in a phallic bamboo tube nestled in a bamboo ice bucket, the Yoshidakura proved to be a dry and thoroughly drinkable sake. So much so that another was duly requested.

Returning to the food menu, the hotate (scallopps) in oyster sauce, a steaming, Chinese tasting dish full of red and yellow peppers, mange tout and onions provided a richer taste. This was balanced with a simple nebā-nebā salad comprised of large pieces of tofu buried under assorted leaves, lettuce, tomato and white tororo (grated yam). Another bamboo phallus, this time brimming with Masumi, arrived and needing a rest from eating we took our time before ordering further, enjoying the company and atmosphere. Although, as mentioned above, the service was highly efficient and maybe over keen, not once did we feel pressured to hurry through our meals. The staff seemed happy to let us take our time and relax. As the evening wore on, the mood of the place became warmer, and a bit noisier. Although not packed, a fair number of seats were filled, the customers ranging from young couples, groups of students busy with drinking games and adolescent flirtations, to pairs of middle-aged ladies enjoying shōchū and conversation at the counter. On the night we visited, the majority of patrons seemed to be women.

Once again in need of food to combat the sake coursing through my veins I convinced my dining partners of the need to sample more of the menu. Slightly spicy satsuma-age with dipping sauce, tempura of seasonal vegetables and baby squid, and the wonderful anago to omame maze gohan, a bamboo basket filled with steaming rice mixed with eels and mange tout provided ballast. Out of sheer greed I then had deep fried camembert cheese... Needing something sweet, we rounded off the evening with a desert of ichigo chīzu dōfu (strawberry-cheese tofu) that, all agreed, was delicious.

Throughout the meal, each dish was fresh, tasty, and of a good size. All were well presented on a nice selection of “wabi-sabi modern” tableware. Prices were very reasonable, especially considering the excellent portions. Good service, pleasant surroundings and an interesting menu make Totoshigure well worth a visit. Keep in mind, however, that the specialty of the house is fish, and meat does not feature in the menu at all.

 

Tel: 03-3419-6125