On this week’s show, we cover recent travels and the evolution of the Japanese lunch hour
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Escape busy Waseda Dori and discover one of Kagurazaka’s best kept secrets.
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.
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.
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.
4-2-30 Kagurazaka, Shinjuku-ku
17.30 – 23.00 (L.O.)
Located on the same street as the Emporio Armani store, this basement izakaya, “Touan”, specializes in decent drinks, tofu, chicken, and sashimi. Several private tables, plus a few that look out onto a cellar-type Japanese garden, provide the perfect backdrop for a romantic dinner or small-scale night out with friends. Jazz music plays in the background.
And Touan has a few dishes that will keep vegetarians happy. Try the dekitate (fresh) tofu, at 780 yen, that comes with seven toppings and can be split amongst four if one thinks in izakaya serving sizes (read: small). The large tofu slabs go well with a side of fried renkon (lotus root) chips (480 yen). The negi shiitake kushi (grilled green onions and mushrooms on a stick) are also worth a try at 200 yen each.
Meat-lovers will enjoy the tebasaki no karaage (fried chicken for 580 yen), and the tofu no gyoza (580 yen for six pieces)–sorry, healthy people, this one almost certainly has meat in it. It’s just too good. But everyone can wind down with a dish of tofu ice cream which is astoundingly tasty (380). Another wise selection is the ebi (shrimp)tenpura and cha (tea) soba (680). The tea flavor is more apparent on the nose than anywhere else. Very nicely done indeed.
The “Naina?” imo shochu at 700 yen a glass, and yuzu umeshu at 620, are excellent choices for herbivores and carnivores alike. The “Hakkaisan” junmai ginjo nihonshu (980) is recommended for those looking for a decent bit of the drink that John Gauntner has taught us so much about.
The drink selection is respectable in several ways. While “Four Roses” is the only whiskey on the menu, Touan steps it up with 14 different bottles of umeshu, 12 potato shochu, six nihonshu, plus wine, beer, kokutou and rice shochu, and cocktails. Draft beer is 580 yen, and wine is 450 per glass. Most alcoholic beverages range from between 450 to 900 yen. Soft drinks are 350.
Directions: JR Kichijoji north exit. Outside the station (looking at the rotary) turn left. You’ll soon pass Baskin Robbins. Go straight until you come to a four-way intersection with a traffic light. Turn right. Walk one block and turn left before Tokyu Department Store. Walk straight (past Banana Republic) and take the second right. Touan is on the left (B1) just before a furniture shop called Kagura. If you reach Emporio Armani, then you’ve gone too far.
Guru Navi Page: http://r.gnavi.co.jp/a045212/
Lunch: 11:30 – 14:00
Dinner: 17:00 – 24:30