Japan Eats

Bar review: Teppei (Kagurazaka)

Escape busy Waseda Dori and discover one of Kagurazaka’s best kept secrets.

Teppei offers a wide variety of shochu and umeshu.

Teppei offers a wide variety of shochu and umeshu.

Getting there is half the fun. Across from Zenkokuji Temple in the center of Kagurazaka, between a fire escape and a clothing store, there’s a claustrophobic alleyway just wide enough for a person to squeeze through. Walk twenty meters along this narrow path and you’ll come to Teppei, a bar which combines serious drinks with obanzai style cooking.

The interior is attractive wood panel affair, and while somewhat cluttered, it wouldn’t be out of place in small-town Kyushu. A wooden counter runs the length of the downstairs area. Directly opposite, shelves lined with some two hundred bottles of shochu. Take a seat at the bar and not only can you nod to your drink of choice, but you can look on as the staff work the charcoal grill in the kitchen. Behind the barstools there’s also a raised tatami section with shoes-off table seating for about a further dozen or so.

It’s a safe guess that for many customers, Teppei is all about the shochu. Devotees of Kyushu’s famous spirit will have no trouble locating familiar favorites – all of the top Kyushu distilleries are represented. Those seeking something sweeter will no doubt be happy with a three page umeshu selection. Elsewhere, there are beers, four types of sake and five types of chuhai on offer. Oh, and let’s not forget Teppei’s range of seasonal sours (right now it’s sudachi, yuzu and daidai from Tokushima, squeezed by hand and served with honey). Suffice to say, the bar is well stocked.

Cucumber with homemade rayu.

Cucumber with homemade rayu.

But what elevates Teppei above most of Tokyo’s other shochu bars – in fact, Tokyo’s bars in general – are its vegetable-oriented otsumami. Yes, meat on a stick may be Tokyo’s go-to bar snack, but there’s a lot to be said for pickles, fried vegetables and salads when you need something to cut through all that alcohol. Few bars take their finger food as seriously as this one, and if you’ve dropped by for a drink rather than a full-blown meal, there’s plenty to choose from. Teppei specializes in sun-dried fish, some of the more eye-catching items being the anago, nodokuro, kinki and sardine nukazuke. Then there’s the yasaiyaki (grilled vegetables) which customers select from a basket of fresh vegetables brought right to your table.

On the night we visited, still recovering from a lengthy lunch, we’d planned for nothing more than a quick drink. All that changed when we saw what our neighbors at the bar were eating. We promptly ordered the chopped cucumber with homemade rayu, followed by the spring cabbage seasoned with jako (dried baby sardines) and sesame seeds. Both were excellent, the rayu lending the cucumber dish plenty of flavor and the ‘salad’ the kind of dish you can imagine your Kyushu grandmother preparing alongside family meals.

Salad seasoned with jako (dried baby sardines) and sesame seeds.

Spring cabbage seasoned with jako (dried baby sardines) and sesame seeds.

The bar does have its flaws – our barman radiated ‘new guy’ and more than once had to be directed to a particular bottle on the shelves. Then again, it’s probably not everyday some Australian comes in and starts ordering off menu. A slight lack of space between the bar stools and the tatami area was our only other gripe.

Teppei offers excellent food, a lengthy drinks menu and plenty of atmosphere. Those who prefer their bars neither rowdy nor restrained will find much to like in Teppei’s brand of stiff drinks and unpretentious cooking.

Directions: From Kagurazaka station (Tozai line) follow Waseda Dori down toward Iidabashi station. When you reach Zenkokuji Temple turn left at the tiny alley hedged between the wine bar and the clothing store. Teppei is 20 meters ahead, on the left just before the T.U.C window.

Tel: 03-3269-5456
4-2-30 Kagurazaka, Shinjuku-ku
17.30 – 23.00 (L.O.)


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Bar review: La Cave Idéale (Kagurazaka)

This wine shop doubles as a standing wine bar and is open from 11:00 to 24:00 every day. Three round tables in the center of the shop allow customers to gaze at the bottles in the glass cases while drinking a glass from the ever-changing lineup displayed on the ‘tachinomi counter’. Wine is typically 500-2,000 yen per glass.

Finger food are also available for purchase with a small variety of cheeses, olives, and other snacks (mostly 300 yen) being peddled from the glass cooler perched on the counter. A small two-piece pack of bread is 50 yen, and don’t be afraid to use the toaster located on the wall opposite the register.

As mentioned before, the wine selection changes periodically as this shop imports directly from vineyards

'Tachinomi' is Japanese for 'drink while standing'.

and dealers in France. That means that they often have wine that you can’t get in most other places.

The “Domaine des Chênes — Le Mascarou 2005″ was dry enough for my liking and was priced at 900 yen per

glass. Another wine that I tried was the “Domaine du Pas de L’Escalette — Ze rozé 2008″ (700 yen/glass) which is apparently one of their monthly featured wine selections and will be replaced soon.

This shop is very well-lit, so it’s often a quick stop on the way somewhere else for business people and small groups of friends. The staff is very cheerful and helpful, and the paintings on the wall would be in my living room if they were up for sale.

Directions: From exit two of Kagurazaka station (Tozai subway line) go left and walk for about 30 seconds. La Cave Idéale is on the left just after “M’s”. You can also take exit one of the station and turn right. The wine shop will be on your right before “M’s”.

Restaurant Review: Ryukotei (Kagurazaka)

Finding a place to eat in Kagurazaka between the hours of three and five pm can be a real challenge when you’re determined not to settle for Royal Host or McDonald’s. Enter “Ryukotei”, a two-floor Chinese restaurant right in the thick of the main road going up the hill from Iidabashi station. This place isn’t out to impress, but they will give you enough food to keep you going until it’s time to eat again. 1,000 yen per person should do the trick.

Lunch is served from 11 am until 5 pm which means that this restaurant doesn’t close between meals like the majority of its neighbors. Lunch sets are 1,000 yen, and while the ‘white fish meat and tomato stir-fry‘ is a little too salty, their ‘chicken and cashews stir-fry‘ is definitely worth a try. All sets come with a bottomless bowl of rice, pickled veggies, a small bowl of rather bland egg soup, and a drink.

A la carte dishes are available for between 1000 and 1400, and the ‘dessert of the day’ can be added for 300 yen. Speaking of which, a dessert set (dessert plus a drink) costs 800-900 yen.

Coffee is 400 yen when ordered on its own, and a double espresso is 500. Ryukotei has Chinese tea starting at 550 yen while more common options such as Earl Grey start at 500. Soft drinks start at 500 yen.

The restaurant also has a small selection of alcohol. They get points for serving Premium Malt’s in both a bottle (650 yen) and on tap (550), and for stocking six different types of umeshu (starting from 500). Nihonshu, shochu, and spirits are also available for between 500 and 1,000 yen.

The interior of Ryukotei is clean and comfy while the music isn’t at all distracting on the first floor. The service is fast and courteous, but unfortunately they have chosen to follow their neighbors in offering a very pro-smoking environment.

To be fair, however, they prohibit smoking on the ground floor during the first half of lunch (until three pm) and most of dinner. But for whatever reason they have a two hour gap in the middle where the whole restaurant becomes a smoking area. Nowhere on the menu, front door, or advertisements is this indicated in any way, shape, or form. Ask upon entry if that is something that can ruin a dining experience for you.

The interior is clean and comfortable, and the music on the first floor was quiet enough that it wasn’t distracting.

Directions: Take exit B3 of Iidabashi station and walk up the hill. Ryukotei is on the left across from Royal Host.