Some of my favourite ever memories are of living in Tokyo. If a city were to be a map of my mind it would probably reflect Tokyo with burrows, people and stories lodged in every crevice. It is a city that really needs no introduction but I feel the need to qualify this story somewhat. You see Japan and Tokyo do quirky themes really well, perhaps the best in the world. There's none of this half baked themeing going on in Tokyo and with a population of 13.35 million you need to keep things fun and exciting. And without further ado, here is a list of 5 of Tokyo's best theme restaurants (with videos)!
Shibuya's famous crossing. Click and drag for 360° view
1. Uobei Sushi, Shibuya
Forever on the edge of new or absurdly fun technology, Tokyo's Uobei Sushi combines two things that people really love: technology and inexpensive sushi. The queues are a testament to this - the lines snake around the entrance of the restaurant and when sushi is just over Y100 (around $1.20AUD/$0.89USD) a plate for two pieces then you understand why.
Just join the queue and eventually it will snake around to the seated area. They ask you how many people (groups of two get seated much quicker than larger ones although the wait is never that long despite how daunting it looks at first). Customers are handed a bill with a number on top. That is your seat number.
All of the ordering is done via a mounted tablet and you can switch to English easily. After you press "English", hit the ads that appear and a menu will come up. It is divided up into nigiri sushi, specials, drinks, side dishes and desserts. Complimentary green tea is provided. Grab a cup and soy sauce plate from up above the delivery belts and fill the cup with some green tea powder and then fill it from the hot water taps within easy reach.
You can order three dishes at a time - you can order a maximum of three of one sort of dish. I made the mistake early and thought that they wanted to know how many pieces of an item I wanted on a dish and ended up with two of the same dish.
We go a bit crazy ordering crab, roe with mayonnaise and tempura prawns - at these prices it is easy to get tempted and say, "Well it's just $1 or so to try all of them." As for the sushi? Well it falls apart as you are eating it and after a few pieces I stop ordering as it doesn't sate the appetite like really good sushi does. The bill by the end is tiny-about $15AUD for the two of us and I guess you really can't complain when you're full and you had a bit of fun. Although it did spark a hankering for some really good sushi!
Why go: if you want a cheap, fun feed and are craving sushi!
2. Ikinari Stand Up Steak, Shinjuku
Walking around Japan as a tourist can be hard on the feet but how about a restaurant that makes standing up a feature? Easy to find on Ni chome (2 chome) one of Shinjuku's main streets it is a ground level restaurant with English writing on the outside and there are a few branches in Ginza, Shibuya, Roppongi and another in Shinjuku on the west side among many others.
Ikinari steak house's main feature apart from being a stand up restaurant is that you can have a really big steak if you want it. You pick a type of steak and then specify the weight. Once an order is placed, customers go over to inspect the steak and the chefs then cook it perfectly for you.
Service is very friendly and there is an abridged English menu and a wine menu on offer because what could be better with steak than wine? Because the English menu is abbreviated there are only four steaks but I recommend adding corn, onion and maybe garlic chips if you like that or vegetables. Otherwise the mixed salad is decent for a bit of change to the steak (the onion dressing is delicious and there's also a pepper dressing). Japanese loves adding seasonings so there are sauces along with wasabi and Tabasco.
We go for the most popular (tip: to ask for this ask for the "number one" and they will tell you the most popular item) which is the grain fed rib eye (minimum weight 300g and Y7 per gram) and the domestic sirloin aged for 20 days (minimum weight 300g and Y10 per gram).
I didn't eat steak for about 8 years but it was in Japan where I fell in love with steak again mainly because they know how to cook a steak rare so that it has a beautiful crust on the outside but is perfectly pink on the inside. And this is no exception. The steaks are juicy and delicious. Out of the two, the domestic aged sirloin has my heart but I am not afraid of fat on beef.
If you like your steak a bit more like a Western style steak there is also a rib eye on offer as well as a tenderloin (Y8 per gram) and a US sirloin. The sauces are very good, especially the smaller bottle while the larger jug is more salty like a shoyu. The garlic rice is also worth a try-with finely ground beef mince and garlic.
Why go: for a novel way to serve some tasty steak (best to avoid if your feet hurt though).
3. Moomin Cafe
They say that some of Japan's population suffers from a loneliness problem. And if you're ever feeling like you need some company or dislike eating alone then Tokyo's Moomin Cafe has you in mind. Dubbed one of the loneliness cafes it's really a slight misnomer. Sure you can sit opposite Moominmamma or Moominpappa or even Snufkin but most people come to Moomin cafe for some good old fashioned Moomin cartoon fun.
The atmosphere is warm and welcoming and I think it could cheer up the most dour person. There is usually a queue but when we arrive at 10:35am we walk straight in. It's busy with customers sitting with large stuffed Moomin characters. The beauty of the this cafe is that it is wonderfully themed in every way. You could almost be in a Moomin cartoon (almost! they live in Moominvalley). And staff say "Kiitos" which is Finnish for thank you.
The menu is smallish and simple. There is a breakfast menu that goes from 8am to 10:45am and then lunch kicks in from 11am. We just make it in time for the breakfast menu which features three items: a sweet and a savoury set. "Silhouette" coffees with the character of choice are also available as are a small set with pudding and a souvenir ceramic small mug.
Click and drag for 360° view
Everyone in the cafe is friendly and happy - honestly how could you be sad around these charming creatures? The poor little girl next to us has a bit of a cry when large Moomintroll comes over but likes the smaller hand puppet version better. And during the course of the hour they ask customers if they are done with their Moomin, have them wave you goodbye and then move them around so you can be seated with two or three Moomins.
The savoury breakfast is interesting-well there's a slice of cheese on top of salad and some boiled Moomin shaped pasta, two Moomin pancakes and a corn soup. But despite its being rather odd it tastes fine.
The sweet breakfast is a Moomin shaped pancake with vanilla ice cream and berry sauce. The latte has a cute imprint of Little My (pronounced Moo in Finnish although the waiter pronounced it like Me). We have breakfast with Snufkin (my favourite character along with Little My).
The two girls next to us are doing the same as us and come 11am they ask to see the lunch menu. There is a Moomin curry and a Finnish meal. I wish we had seen the adorable pancake stack with a three tier Moomin house with jams and spreads for the pancake stack.
Finnish Plate Y1690 with dessert
Our Finnish plate is actually pretty tasty. It comes with a fillet of sauteed salmon, salmon milk soup, salad and a cheese and vegetable tart as well as two slices of soft bread.
We added dessert into our order (normally the Finnish plate without dessert is Y1400) and its a soft chocolate cake with berry coulis and a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Why go? Because this adorable little place will lift your heart. Even Mr NQN adored it and he didn't want to leave.
Spending more time at Skytree with kids? Mr NQN found this ball game (Y1000) which looks like so much fun! Alas it is only available for kids but pretty much every kid looked like they were having the best time. I wanted to be there too :( There is also an aquarium but it is mostly eating and shopping available at Skytree.
4. Zauo Boat, Shinjiku
It's true that you can't really complain about the freshness of fish when you catch it yourself. At Zauo Boat in Shinjuku you can fish for your dinner at the side of the boat and then eat it while sitting in a gigantic boat.
Sounds a bit strange right? And it is a little. We arrived at 3pm which is a bit later than normal (they're usually closed then but it was a public holiday so they were open all day). So the vibe wasn't really there but it meant that Mr NQN and I had plenty of time to fish for our meal.
There are four types of seafood you can fish for: sea bream, flounder, lobster or horsetail mackerel. And if you catch the fish yourself it is cheaper by a few hundred yen so there is a monetary motivation. But mainly it is really fun to do.
Click and drag for 360° view
The rod is free and although bait is said to be Y100 nobody seems to be using it. The sea bream and flounder end up being around Y3200 each so it's best if you are hungry or in a larger group. To have your fish made into sashimi is free but if want it cooked other ways like sushi or simmered in soy or grilled that is extra Y200-Y300 and if you're not sure what to do with your fish there are recommendations for each type of fish. Mr NQN takes a look at the sea bream and they look a bit beaten up with little nicks in the top of the skin so we go for the mackerel instead which are much smaller and around Y780 each. I love mackerel sashimi so I'm happy to do this. He spends around 15 minutes before he catches a couple of them. They're whisked away to be sashimied and we order the rest of our food.
Horsetail mackerel sashimi
Shortly afterwards, the mackerel that he caught comes out as sashimi. It's so tasty and we marvel at the freshness-you can't of course beat fish that has been freshly caught by your own hand.
Mackerel sushi Y54 each, Fried fish bones Y108
One mackerel apparently makes about 4 pieces of sushi and we savour the bite of a hard caught fish. Each piece of sushi costs Y54 or around $0.60AUD per piece. For the price of Y108 you can also have the bones of the sashimi fish deep fried so that they taste like a fish flavoured chip. It's pretty good I have to say!
Sashimi bowl Y1598
The rest of the menu is made up of seafood, sushi and sashimi dishes. Our sashimi bowl comes on a bed of rice with a good variety of sashimi including tuna, salmon, sea bream, squid and mackerel as well as a prawn. It's fresh and filling.
Seaweed Soba Y842
The seaweed soba are noodles that to which ground seaweed have been added. They're accompanied with negi spring onion, a rather slimy item and wasabi. The soba are served cold and you dip them into the sauce and add the topping that you want and slurp away.
It's fun but probably best during lunch or dinner and not at 3pm. Smoking is permitted there which was an issue for us as we don't like to eat around cigarette smoke.
Why go: to catch fish and to eat it fresh!
5. Detective Cafe, Ikebukuro
Regular readers of the blog know that I have a not so secret hankering to be Olivia Benson from Law and Order SVU. So when I heard that there was a detective themed cafe where customers can learn how to make scars, take fingerprints or get a mug shot, all in the name of fun I jumped at it. Luckily it happened to be close to where we were staying and is about a 7 minute walk from Ikebukuro station's North Exit.
But I should not have underestimated the mission at hand. Because Mr NQN and I find ourselves standing in front of two buildings. One has a rather dubious sign saying "Cherries: Sexual Harassment Space" and is obviously a girly bar while the rest are in Japanese. It's a bit hard to find but look for the "Kebab" and "Great India" signs and there's a building opposite the laneway. Take the elevator to the 9th floor where you will find the Detective Cafe Progress.
Click and drag for 360° view
Real life private detectives or tantei work at this cafe by day and bar at night. During the day you can get a mug shot taken (for free using your camera) and take a photo on the chalk outline-they'll even put a fake bloody knife and numbers next to you (also free).
There isn't an English menu but staff are very friendly, especially Aki san who is a private detective herself and she spends a lot of time with us using the translator on her phone. They show us mirror glasses which allow you to look at whatever is happening behind you. We order drinks as we've just come from eating.
Night is when all the tools come out to play. Customers can try taking fingerprints or making scars. It's not cheap though - to do one of the activities you have to buy one of their original cocktails which is Y1000 each. As it was dinner time we decided to have a pasta dish (Y1100 each) and the finger printing and each activity is extra. By the end two cocktails, two pastas and one finger printing game was Y7350 or almost $80.
The spaghetti is actually very decent-there's a shrimp cream, bolognese and a vongole pasta and they are all made to order behind the bar. There's also a surprise on the menu: crocodile! And they don't skimp on the alcohol with the cocktails - they are strong! I try a cinnamon tequila and Mr NQN has the berry vodka.
Then they bring out real life surveillance case files where they have followed people. We do a a finger printing session where they take out a metal briefcase of finger printing tools and hand you a mobile phone. There are finger prints on the phone's surface which you bring out using the brush and powder. They then hand you a folder where you have to match the finger prints to the suspect's file that shows all ten fingers. Mr NQN gets the answer and they give him a prize-a mini brush and powder kit!
All the while they regale customers with tales of detective work and show surveillance footage. It is in Japanese but if you can understand it then you may end up being rapt as the rest of the bar were.
Why go: For something quirky and fun and very different! Tip: look for this building!
So tell me Dear Reader, which theme appealed to you the most? Have you been to any of these? I'm curious, how many of you have visited Tokyo or Japan or how many of you want to?
NQN travelled to Japan as a guest of the JNTO (Japan National Tourism Organisation) but all meals in this post were independently paid for.
2 Chome-29-11 Dogenzaka, Shibuya, Tokyo 150-0043, Japan
東京都 渋谷区 道玄坂 2-29-11 第6セントラルビル 1F
428 metres walk up Dogenzaka (one of the main streets) from Shibuya station. Up a side street.
Open 7 days from 11:00-24:00
Ikinari Stand Up Steak
2-5-11 Shinjuku | Senju Shinjuku Bldg, Shinjuku 160-0022, Tokyo, Japan (plus many other locations)
Japan, 〒160-0022 Tokyo, Shinjuku, 新宿２丁目５−１１
Hours 11:00 to 23:00
Lunch time 11: 00 - 15:00 weekdays only
Moomin House Cafe
1-1-2 Oshiage | 1F Solamachi, Sumida 131-0045, Tokyo, Japan
To get to Moomin Cafe you need to get the train to Oshiage station (Hanzomon and Asakusa subway lines) or Tokyo SkyTree station on the Tobu Isesaki Line (the latter is closer but it is more expensive to get to and Oshiage is a 7 minute walk to the Moomin Cafe). It is located on St. Street (I know right?) on the outside of Tokyo SkyTree Station.
Ground floor, Shinjuku Washington Hotel, 3-2-9 Nishishinjuku, Shinjuku 160-0023 , Tokyo (plus other locations)
Weekday lunch 11:30-14:00, weekday dinner 17:00-23:00
Weekends and holidays 11:30-23:00(L.O.22:00)
Detective Cafe Progress
2 Chome-47-12 Ikebukuro, Toshima, Tokyo
Tel: +81 03-6698-2263
Cafe 11: 30am - 5:30pm weekends only
Bar 7:00pm -4am
About a 5-6 minute walk from Ikebukuro station, North exit