Immigrant's Café - Asian ****
Address - Kyodo-bld. B1F, 5-9-15, Minami-Aoyama Minato-ku, Tokyo Opening hours - LUNCH : 11:30 -14:30 (Mon to Sat), DINNER : 17:30 - 24:00 (Mon to Sat)
Telephone - 03-5766-8995
Menu - In English and Japanese
Credit Cards - OK
A friend of mine lives right next to Omotesando, a fact that, considering who he is, is at least puzzling: he is a system engineer more at home with computernetworks than with too-heavily-made-up teenage girls. When we meet we tend to eat around his house, and this time he wanted to try a new restaurant whose name had intrigued him: Immigrant Cafè.
To find it you have to descend a flight of stairs, and even then the place is completely hidden from view. You enter from a short gallery-like hole and there it is, white, fashionable (Frank's note: in my vocabulary this particular adjective has strong pejorative connotations) and very much like the countless, trendy, anonymous cafes that dot Tokyo. The first impact wasn't of the best. If you care to, take a look at their slide show to form an opinion of your own. I was afraid it would turn out to be an expensive disappointment, almost turned to leave when a very young lad in full hip-hop gear came and guided us to a table, instantly making a strategic retreat impossible.
He turned out to be a slightly eccentric, very pleasant German with, inexplicably, a very strong French accent. He himself freely admits people think he is French, but has no clue as to why this happens. Another waitress was Mexican and just as young, just as genuinely friendly. And this is in my view IC's greatest charm: it's simple, friendly and genuine. No airs and good value.
In spite of the place's name, the German-Frenchman and the already mentioned Mexican girl who brought us our drinks serve a mainly Japanese crowd predominantly Asian dishes: Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Indonesian, Japanese, even Malay. Labels here must be taken with more than rather the customary grain of salt, because nothing is very authentic, but it doesn't matter because everything is good and reasonably priced. If you can avoid sitting in the main room, where the volume is just a tad too high, you can also enjoy the music, mostly instrumental, often very good, always soft and pleasant. A couple of times we even asked the name of the group.
Chaiyaphum - Thai *****
Address - Tokyo-to, Shibuya-ku, Jingumae 6-4-1 (Hakkakukan Bldg 4 Fl)
Opening hours - Every day from 11:30 am to 3:00 and 5-10 pm
Telephone - 03-3406-8829
Menu - in Japanese and English, with pictures
Credit Cards - OK
I have been to literally hundreds of Thai restaurants, and found them to be almost always equivalent in quality, that is to say very good, but this time I have an exception, albeit a small one. Chaiyaphum is definitely a little bit above the average, and its food has that extra touch that makes it worth a special trip. Note that the Tokyo Food Page inexplicably says exactly the opposite, but never mind, to each his* opinions.
In Europe and the in US, restaurants are usually in highly visible spots where people may bump into them on their way somewhere else, but in this case like in many others the Japanese like doing things their way: lost somewhere at the top of their high-rise buildings you can find barbers, doctors, jewelry stores, pachinkos and Thai restaurants.
Chaiyaphum is right in front the elevator on the fourth floor of a building above the Lotteria fast food store across Laforet in Harajuku. From the outside it looks very small, but once you enter you find yourself in a wide, airy room with cane-covered walls, rather pleasant to the eye. The music was subdued and unobtrusive, the way I like it: it must soothe, but not distract or disturb.
From a fairly long and interesting menu, we ordered Thai-style fried chicken, pat pak bung, or fried vegetables in plain English, fried rice with pineapple, and spicy king prawns, a rather abundant meal for just two people for which we ended up paying 5000 yen apiece. We drank two tropical fruit juices, I don't remember exactly which. Everything was excellent, and it had that extra something so difficult to find and that I can only describe as class. We had the place all to ourselves, so we took it easy and finished the meal after more than a couple of hours with two cold desserts. If you are in Harajuku and want to eat, don't forget Chaiyaphum. You will spend more and get more.
Kaffir Lime - Thai
Address -Tokyo-to, Shibuya-ku, Jingumae 6-1-5 2F
Opening Hours - Open Tue to Sun
Telephone - 03-3400-2918
Menu - In English and Japanese
Credit Cards - No
This was a good find, great food and a nice, friendly atmosphere. Set up two years ago by the Japanese owner and his Thai wife, it's very popular and reservations are wise. We got in at 7 on a Friday night but by 7:30 it was full and when we left at 8:30 there were people waiting outside, which in winter shows how good it is. My friend, who is a regular, says there are many regulars, another good sign. The menu is full of lots of good, surprising dishes. I especially liked the the fish cake appetiser, the fried Tofu with original sauce, the Kushin salad (a green vegetable), the shrimp with garlic, the fish with herbs and curry sauce and the nama harumaki, but all the dishes we ordered were very nice. This was followed by a delicious taroimo/coconut dessert. There are also a number of soups but we didn't have any.
One thing I liked was that, unlike some Thai restaurants where the food is so hot that you can't taste the flavour of the dishes, here the heat and flavours are very well controlled so they don't overwhelm the dish, yet it is very authentic Thai food, and not a japanised version. The menu marks especially hot dishes. The name Kaffir Lime in Japanese is a kobu mikan, a basic flavour in Thai cooking apparently used as commonly as lemongrass. They use the rind and the leaf of this fruit, it is not eaten.
We paid ¥14300 for four people, two drinking beer and two natural juices, and we ate plenty. Dishes are ¥730 - ¥1500 with most under ¥1000. The most expensive dish, ¥1500, is a large whole crab and looks pretty good value. Beer ¥500 a glass, ¥600 Singha, natural juices ¥580, desserts around ¥500. There are also other drinks besides beer and juices.
Directions: Take the small road which goes from Cafe de Rope (near Kiddyland) on Omotesando-dori to Oh God. There's an orange sign on the left on the corner before Oh God and it's on the 2F. One minute walk from Omotesando-dori.
Chao Bamboo - South-East Asian
Address - Tokyo-to, Shibuya-ku, 6-1-5 Jingumae
Telephone - 03-5466-4787
Menu - In Japanese
Credit Cards - No
I think the best way to describe Chao Bamboo is as a cheap Chinese restaurant, dressed up to look and taste ALMOST like a South-East Asian restaurant.
In this it's very successful, and indeed if you don't expect their Nasi Goreng to taste like real Nasi Goreng you will probably like it.
I sure do, also because the atmosphere is right. Kind of dirty, improvised and somehow sexy in a very un-Japanese way, Chao! Bamboo indeed FEELS like a South-East Asian Yatai Restaurant.
Food is cheap and tasty, although usually not quite what the name would suggest.
On the menu there's Tom Yam, Nasi Goreng, fried springrolls, you name it, and each dish has a personal twist. Like all food here, bentos are very reasonably priced (650 yen for the above mentioned Nasi Goreng).
Directions : Take the small road which goes from Cafe de Rope (near Kiddyland) on Omotesando-dori to Oh God. There's an orange sign on the left on the corner before Oh God: on the 2F there's Thai restaurant Kaffir Lime, and Chao Bamboo is right below. One minute walk from Omotesando-dori.
Comments and directions by Michel Bouchet
About five minutes from Meiji Jingumae station. Cross Meiji Avenue and walk towards Omotesando station: it is on a small side street on the right. This is a cheap and good place, often crowded on Sunday evenings. You usually have to wait a bit. This is almost an open air restaurant. I wouldn't recommend it though if you're looking for a comfortable seat and a nice table. You can eat there for about two thousand yen, including drinks.
web - www.walkerplus.com/english/tokyo/gourmet/contents/jam073.html