As I may have raved about on several prior occasions, I love Japanese izakaya, which are evening hang-outs and drinking places. Not being a big drinker, what really appeals to me is the fact that izakaya serve tapas-style sharing dishes. The food often has stronger flavours than much of Japanese cuisine in order to go with the alcohol. So I often happily leave rubbing my food baby belly, leaving a trail of garlic fumes in my wake…
Chopsticks Cafe, Shibuya is one that absolutely wins on both the atmosphere and the food front. It’s also better ventilated than a lot of izakaya that often have low ceilings and stuffy air. Smoking is paradoxically not allowed on the streets in Japan but is welcomed in restaurants, so going to an izakaya can result in voice loss and clothes smelling like an ashtray. In Chopsticks Cafe, I’ve not once been bothered by smokers.
Find its discreet entrance and head downstairs to a dimly lit large room. A sleek wooden counter with several seats frames an open kitchen, with individual tables lined around the room. Traditional floor seating tables in screened off rooms.
My first impression on seeing the room was, “Oh, how much is this going to damage my wallet?” I needn’t have worried, however, because Chopsticks Cafe is reasonable, really reasonable.
For example, take my favourite dish on offer – nikujaga. This beautiful and mildly sweet beef and potato stew, served with a soft poached egg and garlic bread, will set you back only 680 yen. It’s the kind of dish that I want to pick up and pour into my mouth before licking the platter clean and immediately ordering a second. For the sake of polite company, I try to use the garlic bread to mop the bowl instead of my tongue. I do, however, always order two.
Then there’s the seared mackerel (950 yen) that gets torched in front of you. It’s more than a spectacle, however, as your tongue will greatly appreciate it. I enjoy smearing it with mustard.
You can also order this cup of ‘Mystery Sake’ for 380 yen. Everyone likes surprise booze, right?
On my recommendations list are the prawn tempura, pumpkin gratin, spicy edamame and the sashimi platter (750 yen) which I’ve yet to try but looks rather spectacular.
Another highlight, however, will probably freak a lot of people out: raw chicken.
It’s very fresh, the waiter promised us. We serve it all the time. I shrugged and told myself that “it’s probably one of those Japan things like raw horse’ as I heartily tucked in.
The chicken is actually not completely raw – it’s seared on the outside. I can’t say that its flavour was noticeably different from fully cooked chicken, but eating it induced wonderful texture and temperature sensations. Warm on the outside, cold and denser in the middle, but also soft. I really liked it. And I didn’t die.
Not everything quite hit the mark so I would avoid the curly fries, which are sickly sweet (WHY JAPAN?!) and the gyoza sausage is nothing special but it does come with a pair of scissors to chop it up. So if you’ve ever fancied giving a sausage a snip… I’ll stop there.
Desserts are cheap at 324 yen each (incl. tax). Take your pick of creme brûlée, almond tofu and kinako (roasted soy bean flour) ice-cream. I absolutely love almond tofu, which is actually made of apricots.
Service is always prompt and personable, whether you’re sitting at the counter or not. The chefs will chit-chat with you and, given my current level of Japanese, that really takes some effort on their part! If it’s your birthday, you may also get a special treat…
The bad news is that the Shibuya branch is closing and so call ahad to check if it’s open or head straight to the Shimokitazawa branch – details below. I’ll report back soon!
Chopsticke Cafe 4.5/5 – Great food, great value, great service in a stylish setting. Go with friends, with a date or even alone. Just go there. But don’t eat all the nikujaga – that’s mine.
SHIBUYA (call to check they’re still open)
Address: 〒150-0043 東京都渋谷区道玄坂1-21-6 南平台東急ビルB1
Transport:12 minutes from Shibuya station, 6 minutes from Shinsen station
Opening times: Daily, 17:30～23:30 (last order: 22:30）
SHIMOKITAZAWA – 汁べゑ 下北沢店 (Apparently not called Chopsticks…)
Address:〒155-0031 東京都世田谷区北沢2-18-2 パインクレスト北沢1F
Transport: 3 minutes from Shimokitazawa station, south exit
Opening times: Daily 17:30 – 24:00 (Last order: 23:00 for food, 23:30 for drinks）