Japan Eats

Restaurant Review: Sumibi Yakiniku Suehiro (Kinshicho)

The menu features a wealth of choice pork and beef cuts for the grill.

Upmarket yakiniku on Tokyo’s east side.

Located about a three minute walk from the south exit of JR Kinshicho station, Suehiro is a superior choice for anyone looking for yakiniku in eastern Tokyo.

There are a number of sets and course meals to choose from, and they range in price from 3,980 yen to just over 13,000 yen per person. The circular grills are embedded in the tables, and you cook the meat yourself just like at most yakiniku restaurants.

The restaurant itself has a chic modern feel to it with low lights and lots of two and four-person booths and rooms. There are about 50 seats in total, so be sure to reserve a table if you’ll be dining at peak ours on a weekend.

You can also order as you go from an extensive a la carte meat menu. The karubi-shio (¥1,050) and hotate (¥880) are tender and excellent when grilled lightly. The tokusen harami at ¥1,800 per serving is some of the best we’ve tried.

There’s also a decent selection of sides such as kimuchi (¥480) and chapuche (¥750). We recommend leaving some room for a post-grilling bowl of cold reimen (¥1,000) or hot buta kimuchi chige (¥1,300) depending on what the weather’s like outside.

Throw some fish on there as well.

Draft beer is ¥490, and Suehiro has an izakaya-level selection of everything else that you’d expect to find. Everything from wine by the glass to shochu to highballs are priced at about 500 yen each, and all-you-can-drink plans are available.

Suehiro is the newest of a family-run, two-shop chain. The original restaurant is on the north side of the station, and the shop detailed here was opened a few years ago. Both are excellent, but we prefer this one because the service is quick and courteous, and the kimuchi moriawase is delicious.

All in all, you can expect to spend between four and six thousand yen per person at Suehiro.

Tel: 03-5669-1529
Sumida-ku Edobashi 3-8-12
Kinsia Annex 2F
Hours: Mon – Sat 17:00 to 7:00 (L.O. 6:30)
Sun/Holidays 16:00 to 7:00 (L.O. 6:30)

Note: Check Suehiro’s listing on Guru Navi and Hot Pepper before you go. They often have coupons for freebies and discounts on course meals.

Map:

View Sumibi Yakiniku Suehiro (炭火焼肉 すえひろ) South Gate Shop (南口店) in a larger map

Restaurant review: Bills (Odaiba)

The third incarnation of this Australian café will win over the kids.  But will adults see past the shopping center location?

The Irish have been putting up with it for years. Wherever you go, there’s an Irish pub to tempt you with a carefully packaged cultural experience that has little, if any relationship to what you’d find on the street corners of Dublin. With their unread copies of W.B. Yeats, James Joyce and Samuel Beckett, and embossed plaques proclaiming the virtues of Guinness, such places are little more than pastiche, inducing a longing for a simpler time, even if that never existed in the first place.

Ricotta hotcakes, fresh banana and honeycomb butter.

Ricotta hotcakes, fresh banana and honeycomb butter.

Odaiba, the man-made island in the middle of Tokyo Bay, is the Japanese home of foreign-inspired kitsch. Forget theme parks, chain restaurants or resorts – Odaiba has enough to make even a cryogenically frozen Walt Disney wince. Whether its the VenusFort shopping center, the ‘life-sized’ Gundam or the “Oh-god-what-were-they-thinking” replica of the Statue of Liberty, Odaiba successfully blends commercial interests with cultural naivety.

So we come to Bills. Named after Australian owner/chef Bill Granger, Bills sets out to be “a warm, open interior inspired by Bill’s own home, accompanied by friendly service and a simple yet lively menu centered around the freshest ingredients.” This is Granger’s third Japanese venture, the first being in Shichirigahama, followed by a second branch on Yokohama’s waterfront. A fourth restaurant baring the name opened April 18th in Tokyu Plaza, Omotesando.

When we arrive, the staff quickly guide us to a long bench in the center of the main room. Our waiter is all smiles when he takes our order.

Friendly service“? Check.

At 11.30, the menu is yet to switch from breakfast to lunch, but  no matter. We go with the scrambled organic eggs with toast and a serve of Granger’s signature ricotta hotcakes, fresh banana and honeycomb butter. I order a black coffee, which the Japanese waiter repeats back in impeccable Australian: “One long black…” Granger, it seems, likes a hearty start to the day – there’s also a ‘full Aussie breakfast’ with toast, mushrooms, bacon, roast tomato and chipolatas, and lengthy list of sides to be had with your eggs. At lunch, you can opt for a wagyu burger with lettuce, beetroot, zucchini pickles, tomato relish, and herbed french fries. Room for more? Try the pavlova with passion fruit and cream. The menu is high on calories, and in that respect, very Australian.

Scrambled organic eggs with toast

Scrambled organic eggs with toast

A simple yet lively menu“? Wagyu burger aside, it’s a fair claim.

But as for “a warm, open interior inspired by Bill’s own home“? Well…

Here’s the problem: Bills is at one end of a giant shopping complex. While the restaurant may aspire to bringing the atmosphere of an Australian café to Tokyoites, it struggles to overcome the sterile confines of its location. Clearly a lot of money has been poured into the fit out, but it’s more IKEA cafeteria than suburban coffeehouse. It’s hard not to view Bills as yet another theme park concession.

When the food arrives, it doesn’t disappoint. The rich scrambled eggs are excellent, although I could have done without the extra pill of butter on the toast. The famous hotcakes are pretty darn good – much lighter than anticipated. And that honeycomb butter is the kind of thing you’ll want to recreate at home. Be warned, though: order hotcakes during the lunch hour crush and they will take at least 20 minutes to appear.

Everywhere there are mums and toddlers. Indeed, Bills may be the most child-friendly restaurant of its kind in Tokyo. There’s no smoking section and they offer a kids menu. For a time, I realize I’m the only male customer not under 18 months.

Look past the packaging and there’s a lot of good here. The food’s excellent (although frankly overpriced – lunch will set you back close to 2000 yen), the staff professional and it’s one of the few restaurants in Tokyo that not only welcomes children but goes out of its way to be family friendly.

If only it weren’t in a 600 ft long shopping center.

Directions: Exit Kaihin Koen station (Yurakamome line) on the water side and follow the signs to Decks. Bills is just inside the glass doors in the building to your right.

Tel: 03-3599-2100
3F Decks Seaside Mall
1-6-1 Daiba, Minato-ku
Hours: 9:00-23:00 (daily)
http://bills-jp.net/


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Restaurant review: Old Thailand (Iidabashi)

Solid Thai food for those who prefer to be stirred rather than shaken.

A couple of years back I was fortunate enough to see a musician friend play Tokyo’s famous Blue Note Jazz Club. It was a great show, and afterwards we sat down to talk about how the gig went. As we ran through the set and talked about the players, I made some off-handed remark about how much I loved the opening piece – a wild, cacophonous explosion of sound, the likes of which is rarely heard at a Japanese club. “Yeah, the chaos,” he replied “it’s the one thing we’ll play like that in Japan. Back in the States, most of our set is like that. But after years of playing here, we learned that Japanese audiences don’t go in for chaos. Now we dial it down when we play Tokyo.”

Khao soi

Chiang Mai's famous khao soi.

Anyone who’s explored Tokyo’s so-called ‘ethnic’ food scene will spot the similarity to what happens when a Thai, Indian or even Vietnamese restaurant opens. Strong flavors, be they spices like chili or cumin, or herbs such as cilantro (coriander) are quickly brought down to a level more acceptable to the majority of Japanese customers.

Prior to visiting Old Thailand, we were assured that despite being part of a restaurant chain, their dishes were pretty authentic, and certainly the familiar ‘chili scale’ illustration (one chili meaning not particularly hot, three meaning pretty darn hot) suggested that we’d be swabbing our faces with oshibori in no time.

The lunch menu offers all the Thai standards, and then some. Khao man gai (boiled Thai-style chicken with steamed rice),  kaeng khiao wan (green curry), and tom yam-flavored noodles head up the menu. Elsewhere, a ‘new lunch menu’ offers a green curry with shrimp and avocado, as well as a personal favorite – khao soi (noodles in a soupy chicken curry).

We ordered khao soi and pad ga prao kai (minced chicken cooked in basil) and were impressed when both dishes arrived in a matter of minutes. The khao soi was a pretty good approximation of what one would find on the streets of Chiang Mai, albeit somewhat oilier and containing the kind of thin ramen noodles which tend to clump together. Still, pretty good for a dish that many Japanese are yet to discover.

But it was the ga prao that dominated conversation. It was surprisingly bland, with none of the flavor we were expecting. Where was the promised ‘three chili’ spiciness? Clearly, this was a case of a Thai classic being modified to suit local tastes. Now, this isn’t always a bad thing (the Japanese have reworked countless foreign dishes to great effect) but here the result was mildly disappointing.

Old Thailand delivers plenty of ambiance, and the long lines suggest this is a popular destination for Iidabashi’s office workers come lunchtime. But if, like me, you like your Thai liberally seasoned with chaos, I suggest you ask ahead.

Directions: Turn left from Exit B2A of Iidabashi station. It’s 3 minutes walk across the bridge and on the second street to your left.

Tel:03-5212-4566
2-3-8 Fujimi, Chiyoda-ku,
Tokyo-to, 102-0071
Hours: 11.30 – 15:00 (L.O. 14.30) and 17.30 – 23.00 (L.O. 22.00)
http://www.sscy.co.jp/oldthailand/


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Restaurant Review: Plik chee fah 2 (Shinjuku)

Reliable Thai, only a few minutes walk from Shinjuku Station.

One of the quirks of living in Tokyo is that some types of cuisine are ubiquitous, while others are virtually ignored. There are numerous French bistros, Italian pizzerias and Chinese fast-food joints, yet finding a decent bowl of Vietnamese pho or Malaysian laksa can prove difficult. And don’t even get me started on the dearth of Lebanese or Moroccan food.

Pad Thai

The lunch menu features such dishes as Pad Thai, tom yum goong and green curry for under 1000 yen

Thankfully, good quality Thai cooking is well represented. From the casual charm of Shinjuku’s Bankirao to the upmarket Mango Tree in Marunouchi, lovers of lemongrass and chili needn’t go far to get their fix.

One of the most popular is Plik chee fah. Hidden away on the 5th floor of an unremarkable building on the west side of Shinjuku Station, Plik chee fah serves up good quality renditions of familiar favorites – curries, noodle dishes and spicy salads. The restaurant is especially popular at lunchtime, when it packs in the crowds of (mostly) young professional women.

Like so many of Tokyo’s other Thai restaurants, this 5th floor loft space isn’t much to look at. Plastic tablecloths protect the furniture from falling debris and the window curtains appear to have seen better days. Nor does it stand on formality – although the soundtrack of Thai pop is for the most part unobtrusive, the same cannot be said for the widescreen television which gets switched on mid-evening. All this, of course, is part of the charm, but probably not ideal for that intimate candlelit dinner.

The weekday lunch menu (11 am to 3 pm) consists of a dozen or so ‘sets’, including standards such as kao man kai and tom yum goong, for under 1000 yen. On the weekend, the restaurant serves up a lunch buffet between 11 am and 3 pm. On a recent visit, the minced chicken and basil proved especially popular (I apologize to anyone standing in line behind me).

As one would expect, the dinner menu is more comprehensive. It contains all of the classic Thai dishes one usually comes across in Tokyo: pad Thai (1200 yen), fried morning glory (a tad overpriced at 1200 yen) and popia tod (spring rolls) for 1000 yen. There are also a couple of surprises: Chiang Mai’s signature dish, kao soy (1300 yen) and a wide selection of salads, including yam wun sen (spicy noodle salad – 1200 yen) and yam mu yaw (Thai sausage salad) for 1300 yen.

We decided to take things slow and to start with drinks and the yum wun sen. The waiter, however, had other ideas. Service was extremely fast. Our salad arrived only moments after ordering, and seemed none the worse for it. A riot of flavors accompanied the first mouthful. First sour, then salty, then sweet. The perfectly cooked texture of the squid and shrimp was impressive.

Next, we decided on the kao soy. Essentially a chicken noodle soup, the Chiang Mai original balances different textures (soft noodles/a crispy noodle garnish) and flavors (sweet coconut milk/spicy chili). We found Plik chee fah’s version went overboard with the coconut milk. Thick and glutinous, it was a little too sweet. This could have been helped by a dash of lime juice, but like many other South East Asian restaurants in Japan, a side dish of lemon substituted for lime.

If you’re looking for satisfying, unpretentious Thai, Plik chee fah will not disappoint. On leaving, the staff thank you twice, in both Thai and Japanese.

Now what’s “That was delicious” in Thai?

Directions: Plik chee fah (2) is located on the 5th floor of Meiko Building in Nishi Shinjuku. To get there, walk out Shinjuku Station’s Odakyu Exit and proceed down the hill toward Seibu Shinjuku. On the left side of  the street you’ll see a large pachinko parlor. The restaurant is located in a small building in the street to the rear.

Tel: 03-5326-8588
http://www.plikcheefah.com/
5th Floor of the Meiko Building, Nishi Shinjuku.