...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 Shibuya (18)


Komatsuan, Shibuya  小松庵、渋谷

Komatsuan is a small chain of soba restaurants serving up “Tokyo Soba,” based on the traditions of Edo Soba, which is to say they claim to adhere to tradition while adding something contemporary to the mix, too. 

A visit to the Shibuya Tokyu Honten store for a late lunch found the place practically deserted, and lacking in character, as are most department store restaurants.

The menu offered range of set lunches, reasonable priced, with the soba and tempura set being well proportioned and tasty.





Outback Steakhouse, Shibuya  アオトバック、渋谷

Birthday parties often provide the chance to try somewhere different, and this one was no exception. 

I get the feeling I must have been one of the few left in Tokyo not to have tried an Outback Steakhouse. In fact, I couldn’t even picture it, until checking it’s location and realizing I’d known it all along. Anyhow, it proved to be an enjoyable distraction.

Spacious, kind of cozy, packed with a mix of parties (we sang happy birthday many times – for young and old), lovers, coworkers and gaijin.

The service was okay. But just okay. They tried hard to do the genki thing, but didn’t come across as all that sincere. Drink orders took forever to materialize, so in the end we resorted to ordering two at a time, after a few rounds of which the staff grasped the concept of thirsty diners and got their act together.

The menu had plenty to offer, and pretty pictures to make ordering simple.

I’d been warned by a trusted source that if I wanted to eat more than one dish the Bloomin’ Onion ® was best avoided. Advice followed, but I have to admit that it looked bloomin’ tasty.

Aside from the slow beers, margaritas and Cassis sodas, we had the customary bread and butter, which was sweet tasting, and the perfectly naughty Aussie Cheese Fries. Bad for you, but enjoyable in the way the bad things usually are.

We ordered various steak sets, each of which was accompanied by a choice of soups, salads, and sides. The soups were poor, afterthoughts at best. The salads little better, with even the ubiquitous Caesar Salas being less than it could have been. The jacket spuds (that means potatoes) looked okay, but I neglected to sample. I went for mashed potato instead, which to be honest wasn’t great – good mashed potato should be done with enough cream and butter to make even the sturdiest lady cow wince. 

There was rice (but no peas), coleslaw and veggies, too. All were passable at the price point. And as for the steaks… 

My filet (apparently recommend, as highlighted in red on the menu) was somewhat disappointing. Flavor mild to say the least, and screamed “Japanese style,” which is to say it was kind of buttery, or like marshmallow. Steaks should have more substance.

The Outback Special, favoured by three of my dining partners, was far superior. For a start it was bigger, and the juicy flesh and full flavour was much better than expected. Finally, the NY Strip was pretty good, too. Less filling than the Special, but overall a more accomplished steak.

I wasn’t too miffed at my poor choice, as (luckily) my dining partners all being ladies, they decided to give me half of their steaks. Helping them out seemed like a good idea, but by time I was finished I was less sure.

Desert was suggestively shaped sugary death in a bowl. I didn't go there. 



Outback Steakhouse


The Lockup, Shibuya  ロックアップ、渋谷

This horror-jail themed chain-izakaya is exactly the kind of place I try to avoid like the plague. Cheap, tacky, noisy, overdone and big on time wasting.

However, a pair of visiting dignitaries from Blighty expressed a desire to try the place and, being persuaded by the promise of a generous nomihōdai plan, I acquiesced and, shame be upon me, thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Half the “fun” is the interior – dark, filled with fancy dress horror props such as zombies, skeletons, cages and spongy floors. Although not really scary I was truly terrified that I might be injured.

Once seated in our cell, we endured roughly half an hour of ear splitting Thriller-like “music,” screams, maniac laughter, squeals from neighbouring diners and voiceovers from the netherworld while all the time watching the clocking ticking on our two hours of nomihōdai plan – torturous.  

The first five minutes were kind of funny, but after a while all too similar to listening to the majority of Japan’s “talent” infested TV. The cloven-hoofed hordes of freeters dressed as zombies, ghosts, demons and ghouls rattled our cages, but not in the way intended.

The entertainment dispensed with, at last we could hit the menu.

The nomihōdai plan offered lots of choice; the test tube cocktails proved popular as well as colourful. These aside, my dining partners and I got through a truly horrifying quantity of bottled Kirin beer, and so all was well with the world.

The food was, just about, at the higher end of the budget chain-izakaya spectrum.

Our course included Caesar salad, bacon and leak on a stick, salmon drenched in dressing and mayonnaise and shrimp and broccoli salad…

… and then some chicken karaage, French fries, pork, seafood spaghetti and a bit of cake for dessert.

Judging by other reviews of The Lockup from a few years ago it used to be a little more polished, probably somewhat more expensive and possibly scarier. Now it has the distinct feel of a themed chain-izakaya on its way out. Still, ¥2,500 for a mountain of gut-liner and access to endless drinks for a couple of hours isn’t all that bad. Even better if you want to show visitors some of “whacky Japan.”





Tachikichi Gyōza, Shibuya  立吉餃子、渋谷

The gyōza at Tachikichi Gyōza are fantastic. Hefty, juicy and delicious, whether boiled or fried. Certainly in a different league than the rather paltry dumplings served at the immensely popular Harajuku Gyōza Ryō.

Tachikichi’s gyōza differ from the norm by not having garlic in the meat mix. This allows the flavour of the pork to come through. For those, like me, who love the taste of garlic, quite excellent garlic gyōza are available. The gyōza skins have a thicker more succulent feel than usual, akin to Chinese dumplings.

Prices are good – about ¥100 a piece, with discounts when ordering in sets of five or ten. A range of other simple izakaya classics are available although apart from the cabbage and shio kombu salad I’ve yet to sample them. Beer at ¥390 isn’t bad, but the glasses are small.

Friendly staff and customers – a nice mix of young and old, male and female, smart and scruffy – make for a relaxed, cozy atmosphere at this hole in the wall eatery.

Funky decoration and ornaments add some flavour to an otherwise plain interior.

The location works well, too; on Meiji Dori, just a few minutes from the east exit of Shibuya station over the pedestrian bridge.

The open front allows for a spot of people watching while quaffing beers and tucking into the tasty dumplings. Perfect for lunch, a light dinner or just a beer-break on your way to the station.

Update 17/10/11: A recent visit at lunch time revealed the lunch sets to be of excellent value. Three gyoza, along with some kimuchi, leaf salad topped with potato salad, soup and finished off with sweet tofu desert. 

My dining parnter ordered a plate of ten gyoza as an extra, only to find his eyes were bigger than his belly. 

Furthermore, a recent attempted visit revealed that Tachikichi is closed for refurbishment. From the glimpse I caught, the planks of wood clamped to metal frames that once served as tables are being replaced with purpose built furnishings. Great to see the place doing well enough to be more permanantly fitted out. Just hope none of the charm of the place is diminished in the process! 

UPDATE 26/10/11: Revamped and renamed "Kitchen Tachikichi," the interior fittings are better, the wall mounted counter-tops, especially, much improved. The playfully kitch deocrations are sadly no more, and with them much of the atmposphere has disapeared, too. In all fairness, Kitchen Tachikichi now feels like a blank canvas, perhaps more a work in progress. With luck, the young masters will add some of the old sparkle atop the new lick of paint.   

But - Honolulu starbright - the food remains the same.







On The Corner, Shibuya  渋谷

In an attempt to stave off the effects of my affection for iced-Canadian Club my morning commute, weather permitting, culminates in a brisk stroll along Meiji Dori, from Harajuku to Ebisu.  

In doing so, On The Corner – an American-style diner hosting an outpost of the apparently esteemed No. 8 Bear Pond espresso bar of Shimo-Kitazawa – has taken my fancy for months. As if often the case, while others such as The Recently Betrothed, have visited I’ve never quite gotten round to it. Until today. 

As mentioned elsewhere, “American diners” bring to mind apple pie, buxom blondes, pancakes, bacon and maple syrup. Sadly, not a single pancake was to be flipped. 

After waiting an eternity for a table (while witnessing happy patrons being scolded for attempting to photograph Bear Pond’s fare) we were eventually seated in our faux-leather booth amongst whitewashed walls and fashionably industrial ducts and piping. 

By all accounts, the breakfast menu is perhaps the most compelling reason to visit, but the lunchtime spread wasn’t half bad either; reasonably priced, well proportioned. The mojitos were much better than those served here. Service was friendly (photos allowed) especially when needed to make diving catches to save falling French fries… 

Talking of fries, I wish I’d been warned after ordering a side of them that my BLT would be served with an ample supply of the very same. The BLT itself was okay, but the bread left much to be desired. Such a venue would suggest the availability of something less reminiscent of sliced-white. My dining partner’s herb and watercress green salad was voluminous. The chocolate brownie, served with ice cream and white foam from a can, was tasty. 

Enjoyable, a fun lunch spot, and apparently a place to charge your laptop for free. The breakfast menu (served from 9am to 3pm) seems the best reason to visit. 





Gyōssantei, Shibuya  魚山亭、渋谷

The shop card I have for Gyōssantei – a decent little izakaya located opposite the entrance to Shibuya’s Bunkamura – has a date scrawled on it: 4/10/09/. I’m lazy about posting izakaya visits… 

Topline judgment? Well worth a visit, but with a few caveats.

They serve a fantastic line in Kyushu cuisine, the majority of which focuses on that of Miyazaki prefecture; which of course tends to mean jidori, or naturally reared chicken. Which isn't to say there’s not more than just chicken, whether charcoal-grilled or deep-fried and smothered in mayo - namban style, to recommend Gyōssantei’s pantry.

For instance, the abura miso salad was exemplary. Dynamic, in that delightfully “in your face” way that izakaya sometimes get so right. This “salad,” served in a wooden masu (a nice touch), consisted of chunky cuts of celery, carrot, cucumber, daikon and leaves accompanied by a miso and berry-oil paste.

On the other hand, the unashamedly chewy otoshi of snails succeeded in offending. A local (to Miyazaki) beer, Hideji, went some way to making amends, being light, crisp and faintly hoppy. So too the various grilled fish heads.

The sashimi, in this instance a moriawase of maguro, kasago and saba, was excellent, just way too dainty.

If grilled fish is really your thing (it should be) then the yaki kamasu, a somewhat infrequently served, thoroughly delicious long-snouted species, will put a smile on your face.

As will the Yukkuri – a potent shōchū which to be honest sent my head spinning…

When feeling tipsy, some meat helps. I looked no further than the buta kakuni with shiraga negi. The three succulent, weighty pieces were not at all oily and only lightly doused in juices, so as to retain some of that delightful crumbly texture that good braised pork offers.

A wonderful oshinko moriawase – cucumber, carrots, ginger, daikon, takuan, kombu and umeboshi – provided a fantastic array of strong flavours, too. This offset the overpowering sweetness of the Jūyondai; a sake I’ve not bothered to revisit since.

Food aside, the interior is tastefully appointed. Although not large, the floor space is put to good use. You don’t feel crowded. Avocado green walls framed with dark wood and dimly lit to boot create a suitably intimate, “Japanese” atmosphere. The hanging noren before the kitchen and the cute little counter near the entrance, upon which are jars of beans, pickles and freshly prepared recommendations of the day, reinforces this ambience. This considered approach to the interior design benefits from the application of seasonal sprigs and dried shishito (peppers) for chopstick rests.

What of the aforementioned caveats?

Despite the generally excellent service from the floor staff, the mama-san was pushy. Extremely so. Probably well intentioned – she is both proud of her menu and well informed regarding the foods and ingredients there in – she manages, nonetheless, to raise hackles. On each of the handful of occasions I’ve visited her establishment, she was hassling us from the moment we were seated. “What will you drink?” “What will you eat?” “How many of those?” “Why not try another of these and one of those to go with it?”

The approach was utterly out of kilter with the ambience of the place and the demure service provided by other – admittedly more youthful – ladies that wait the tables. This mama seemed more suited to some grubby snack bar. No one enjoys a hard sell at dinner time.

Fancy another sweeping generalization? Here it is – despite good food, decent drinks and pleasant surroundings, I always come away thinking it’s just a little over priced.





Hongo, Shibuya  本郷、渋谷

Hongo looks tempting. It’s a little izakaya nestled amongst variously ugly buildings that line the banks of the “Shibuya river” (actually now little more than a concrete channel through which a couple of inches of water and scum flow) and the right hand side of Meiji Dori if you head out of Shibuya station in the direction of the intersection with Komazawa Dori and Ebisu.

Not that the neighbourhood lacks interesting looking places to dine. Dotted around are all manner of izakaya, bars and raman shops (especially on the section of Meiji Dori immediately out of the station), many of which are to be found in the most unlikely – perhaps not for Tokyo – spots. Hongo itself is right on the little bridge over the river, overshadowed by the Toyoko line and drab looking office buildings. You might pass it by without a glace during the day, but of an evening Hongo and the Hongo yakiniku-ya above it, are transformed into a vision of welcome and promised enjoyment thanks to the large glowing lantern at the entrance. Perhaps it’s the family of cats with their little homes set up near the entrance that appeals, too.

The interior is classic izakaya. Lots of dark wood, a polished counter lined with shochu bottles, shelves to the rear of the space housing sake bottles, and a large chalk board describing the recommended dishes. It must be said that over several visits these recommended items have been exactly the same each time. I’ll also point out that I’ve not always been graced with an o-toshi at Hongo. A small point, yet annoying for the inconsistency if nothing else.

The atmosphere is pretty good. Cosy, though not exactly “warm,” especially if seated by the floor to ceiling window looking out over the bamboo, cat bowls and river. Service comes with a snaggle-toothed smile courtesy of the old man charged with caring for customers and is reasonably prompt.

Patrons mainly seem to be salarymen and partners, mistresses, girlfriends and – possibly – their wives.

Despite the good range of shochu and less good range of sake on offer, I’ve stuck to beer at Hongo as my visits happened to fall in the already much missed sultry summer nights of not so long ago. I’d hazard that the sake list wouldn’t excite certain people (you know who you are). I did have the Hiroki, produce of Fukushima, which was drinkable but neither dry enough nor exciting. Price-wise the sake seems a little steep considering the volume.

As for the cooking, the one time my dining partner and I did enjoy an o-toshi it came in the form of chunky pieces of octopus sashimi, a little on the chewy side and yet pleasantly robust, if a little bland. The pickles seem a little lacklustre too. Not dynamic enough, and the vinegar, i.e., pickled, taste was weak. The usual suspects appeared; cucumber, carrot, daikon, aubergine and cabbage. The katsuo-tataki, served with grated ginger and shiso leaves, has been good overall, not too fishy, fresh and of a decent size. The seared edge never seems seared enough though.

The morsels of pork on a stick (can’t remember the name) were tasty, but hardly polished. The bed of cabbage comes in handy as it helps to pad out the meal, which is say portions aren’t large even if they aren’t painfully small. Thankfully, the sanma was much, much better. But then again, even I can turn out decent sanma so no medals awarded. Still, worth ordering.

Salad… This particular example had a kind of smoky/bacon-y flavour despite there being not a slither of bacon therein. Tomatoes, leaves, mushrooms, mayonnaise and bonito flakes did make an appearance. The first couple of mouthfuls were very enjoyable, and yet the strong smoky flavour ultimately become overbearing. The kampachi sashimi was fair-to-middling, too.

Hongo isn’t bad, I actually enjoy it quite a lot, but it’s not great either. It promises more than it delivers, mainly because the chef(s) seem intent on playing it safe. I’ll give the place points for a being a welcome change for central Shibuya, and for the cats. Take a look if you are in the area. If not pleased, drink up quick, try the yakiniku-ya upstairs and let me know what it’s like.


Tel: 03-5774-0055