Japan Eats

Restaurant Review: Smokehouse (Harajuku)

Tokyo has well and truly discovered the pairing of American-style BBQ and craft beer.

Grilled marinated chicken breast with chipotle mayonnaise on toasted whole wheat

Grilled marinated chicken breast with chipotle mayonnaise on toasted whole wheat.

TY Harbor Brewing has a wonderful restaurant out on Tennozu Isle (or however you spell it) that has boasted a top-notch kitchen for several years. The beer’s pretty good, too, and getting better, but you still get the sense that most folks dining there aren’t really there to see how the brews are coming around. However, make no mistake, TY Harbor is no slouch in the brewing department, and they’ve recently found a new way to get their beers out there to the red-blooded folk on the west side of town.

It’s called the Smokehouse.

The Smokehouse is on Cat Street not far from that warehousey second hand shop that features brand name kit previously owned by folks who couldn’t fit into it either. Over the course of several visits, I managed to make my way through much of the food and beer menus.

During my most recent trip, I had the Chopped BBQ Pork (¥1,700) which is fall-off-the-bone soft with a notably smokey flavor. It comes with a side of coleslaw and a muffin, which was somewhat sweet for my taste. The Smokehouse cheeseburger (¥1,500), meanwhile, is fantastic – the perfect balance between soft/crunchy, savory/sweet. Certainly in the running for the best burger of its kind in the city.

Chopped BBQ pork, Carolina spicy vinegar

Chopped BBQ pork, Carolina spicy vinegar

I was also able to try the grilled marinated chicken breast with chipotle mayonnaise on toasted whole wheat (again served with a large helping of fries). This too had plenty of flavor, and maintained its structural integrity despite the presence of tomato, the juices from the chicken and a generous coating of sauces.

Where Smokehouse really excels, however, is in its selection of sauces. Each table has a selection featuring names like “Voodoo Hot”, “House Pit”, “Porter Pepper” and “Carolina Vinegar”. We fancied the herb-rich House Pit, which we were soon squeezing on everything, particularly the crunchy fries that accompanied the burger.

You also can’t go wrong with a side of Chili Cheese Fries (¥900) or a small bowl of Home Style Mac-n-Cheese (¥400). Calories be damned.

All of T.Y. Harbor’s regular beers are on tap with 420 ml (14 oz) glasses for ¥800, and 250 ml (8.6 oz) pours for ¥480. My favorites are still the Pale Ale with its balanced cascade hops and bready malts, and the Imperial Stout which goes from sweet to bitter as it travels toward the back of the palate. There are also always at least a few guest beers on tap that are more expensive but will generally be worth your while, and the spirits list sports more than 20 labels of bourbon, rye, and other craft whiskies from all over the US. The wine list is 10 bottles long (five red and five white) with all priced at ¥5,000.

Smokehouse cheeseburger

Smokehouse cheeseburger

Directions: From Harajuku station, walk down Omotosando-dori and turn right just after Shakey’s onto Cat Street. Smokehouse is about 150 meters down, on your left.

Tel: 03-6450-5855
2F, 5-17-13 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku
11:30 – 15:00 (L.O.) & 17:30 – 22:00 (L.O.); Weekends, holidays 11:30 – 22:00 (L.O.)

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Café Review: Tokyo Apartment Café (Harajuku)

I’d first visited this café several years ago when I’d just arrived in the country. Being a snobby ex-barista from Wellington I was disappointed to find that coffee and cafés in “cool Tokyo” were mostly chain places with automatic machines. Apartment Café was one of the places which gave me hope that Tokyo did indeed have a café culture worth getting excited about.

Apartment Café

Apartment Café

Apartment Café uses Illy beans, imported from Italy. Having recently visited an Illy brand café in Yurakucho I can happily report that the barista at Apartment Café can actually create something good with them!

My first coffee of the visit is a hot café latte – a distinction that needs to be pointed out in Japanese cafés. The café is busy, but not frantic, so my coffee is delivered promptly. The milk has been spun and stretched quite well, though the finished product is not as shiny as you would really like. Still, no complaints. This coffee is smooth. The shot is nicely done, too. The finish was suitably smooth, though I think it was a single shot. A double of these Illy beans might be a bit rough. The temperature of the coffee was good, too. Quite often, especially at the chain cafés, the baristas rely on a temperature gauge in the milk jug rather than their hand. The two baristas I’ve seen here at Apartment Café are using their left hands on the side of the jug and are getting good results – no boiled or burnt milk here.

The bean hopper on the grinder looks to be three quarters full, but the baristas are only grinding beans as necessary. Good. Ground beans exposed to air have a shelf life of about 5 minutes. If they’ve been sitting there for longer the cup that arrives at your table won’t be as good as it could be. Both baristas are stretching milk without too much noise, meaning the milk will be thick and smooth, not big and bubbly. One thing I have noticed though is that they are not wiping out the basket between shots. Grounds left in the basket from the previous shot can make a coffee quite bitter. However, the shots are going straight into the cups, not into a shot glass. This means that the crema is intact when the milk is poured, resulting in a better looking coffee.

I’ve got time for another coffee, so an espresso is in order. While waiting for it, I’d best mention the prices. This espresso is setting me back 500, while a latte goes for 550. Not really an Excelsior or Doutor price, but one that café patrons in Tokyo can expect if they’re after something made well. It would seem that tax isn’t included. The total is 1,102 yen.

The espresso has arrived, so let’s take a look. This is a single as well, and looks to have been quite a long pour. The crema isn’t really what you’d call great – there is a big hole in the middle. The first sip was ok, but the second starts hinting at some real bitterness. I can’t get any indication of the sweetness that a good espresso should have. After a bigger gulp towards the end, and the initial shock of that, the flavour does settle out a bit, but really it didn’t impress me as much as the latte did.

The Tokyo Apartment Café @ Harajuku – certainly worth a visit and a warming milky coffee.

The café itself has a very cool feeling to it – lots of dividing walls about the place so you feel you have your own little part of what is actually quite a big place. The music is cool, décor too. The drink menu is good, though not too extensive, and the food going past me to waiting patrons looks pretty good too. It’s easy to find, right on the corner of Omotesando-dori and Meiji-dori, or just past Softbank if you’re walking down the hill from Harajuku station.

Open 365 days a year. www.harajuku-ac.com 03-3401-4101.
Green Fantasia 1F, 1-11-11 Jingumae, Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo.