...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 Sobu Line (8)


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





Mumbai, Kagurazaka  ムンバイ、神楽坂

Finding a decent (non-Japanese) curry in Tokyo ceased to be a problem long ago. Restaurants offering curry of one persuasion or another abound. Nepali – or Indo-Nepali fusion – outlets seem to have sprung up on every street. 

Among all that Kagurazaka has to offer, Mumbai is hardly exceptional. It is, nonetheless, a reasonable restaurant serving decent food at decent prices. Part of a chain, I recall my first encounter with a Mumbai was a visit to one somewhere near Marunouchi or Ginza. At the time, I grumbled about the small portions. But then, the memory of England’s Indian restaurants was still too fresh in my mind.

These days, the portions at Mumbai tend not to offend the eye, and the belly less. Besides, the ample naan (although neither as ample nor arousing as those at Jau Hai! or Manakamana, especially when it comes to the garlic variety) are usually more than enough to sate most appetites. The chapattis are somewhat disappointing. Too greasy; not dry and floury/dusty feeling as they ought to be.

The samosas are excellent. A more imaginative salad garnish – or none at all – would improve the presentation and experience though. The saag chicken, now my benchmark test for curry restaurants, is rich and thick in both flavour and texture. Not at all “pureed” feeling, as so many turn out to be. 

Not quite as rich as a good madras, the Hyderabad chicken was delicious, too. Next time the Mumbai special seems in order. Many of my dining partners enjoy the butter chicken curry. Whether this is due to its being particularly good or just a cultural/ ladies’ taste buds related thing is a mystery to me though.

Both the mango and black sesame ice cream are tasty, with the sesame being the better of the two, if I had to choose. The kulfi isn’t bad either, but then I have only a limited experience of the stuff upon which to base my judgment.

The drink menu supplies all the usual suspects. One time – and sadly only one time – they were doing some crazy deal on glass wine. Anything from the wine list for ¥100 or something similar. Was a great night. Can’t remember much about the curry on that visit though…

Mumbai perhaps deserves a few points for not overdoing the ethnic decoration. It’s actually rather understated, yet funky, inside. Not spacious, but clean and nicely lit, with the various booths and partitions providing privacy. Service has ranged from exemplary to hostile. But then I tend bring that out in people…

Where’s it sit? Jau Hai! is still number one, overall, when they remember to serve the food while it’s hot, that is. Manakamana and Mumbai tie in second place, although I almost feel that Mumbai’s curries are “technically” better than those of the other two, but as noted above the naan leave something to be desired.

Sapana isn’t even in the same league. 





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