A. Raj - Indian *****
Address - Tokyo-to, Toshima-ku, Minami Ikebukuro 2-42-7
Opening hours - Closed on Tuesday. Open from 11:30 to 15:00 and 18:00 to 23:00
Telephone - 03-3981-9688
Menu - In English and Japanese
Credit Cards - OK
I have never been to any of the countries of the Indian subcontinent, and I know its cuisines only from having tried them in some restaurant in Japan or at the house of Indian or Pakistani friends.
Thanks to these friends, however, I am aware that what we have here is almost exclusively Muslim food from the North. Plus, Hindus eat no meat, and that means the Indian food we know must be Islamic or Sikh. Why Southern Indian food should be so rare is a deep mystery to me.
Anyway, that's the reason so many southern dishes like Biryani, Dosa, Sambar, Idli, and curries with coconut milk are almost unknown in Japan.
The discovery of a South Indian restaurant (just the third, including Dhaba India and Ajanta) near Ikebukuro is therefore important, and the day I went there it was with more than a little curiosity.
Once out of the subway, the landscape is kind of desolate, but don't let that deter you because, in spite of that unpromising beginning, my spirit of adventure was well rewarded. The meal was excellent and the Sri Lankan waitress shy, but friendly and kind.
That first time we had what at A. Raj is called a "meal", that is a set including three curries, rice, dessert and chutney, all served on a banana leaf. The whole thing is more unusual than it sounds: the excellent Basmati rice for example was sprayed with some kind of brownish powder, one of the curries was coconut-milk based, and so forth.
As good as that was, after several meals there I can say that if I were you I would try even rarer stuffs, like the biryanis, the idlis, and the sambars, in short, what makes South Indian food what it is. I like particularly the masala dosa and the biryani.
Prices? Not extraordinarily low, but reasonable. Recommended.
How to get there: From Ikebukuro take the Yurakucho line to Higashi Ikebukuro, get out of the station's A1 exit, turn right and you will find A. Raj's sign after a couple of hundred meters.
New Delhi - Indian ****
Address - 東京都豊島区池袋1-18-10 ミラノビル2F
Opening hours - Open every day from 11:30 to 12:00
Telephone - 03-5391-9449
Menu - In Japanese and English
CC - OK
I visited New Delhi, another of a group of restaurants recommended by the Daily Yomiuri in an article I describe in the Ethnic Groceries section of the site. Groceries . It's good, friendly and cheap, no question about it. Too bad it is so close to Marhaba. I would recommend it without hesitation if it were anywhere else but in Ikebukuro, but as it is I can only say that it is a typical good-level Indian restaurant, as you can find many in this city. The menu is long and contains interesting stuff, including items like fish, shrimp and other seafood or Pakora not available at Marhaba, so it is still worth a visit. But if you haven't been to Marhaba, don't stop here, and walk the extra 300 meters to eat the best. The same group owns three restaurants, two called New Delhi and one called Sonarga, all in Ikebukuro very close one to the other.
Marhaba - Pakistani *****
Address - Palace Garden Milano 1F, 2-36-6, Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku, Tokyo
Opening hours - every day from 11:00 to 3:00 and 5:00 to 10:30. Sundays and holidays from 11:30 to 9:00
Telephone - 03-3987-1031
Menu - in English and Japanese
CC - OK
Marhaba, which I am told means "Welcome" in Arabic, belongs to the guy who runs the Al Flah Supermarket (see its review in the " Groceries" section of the site) and is an excellent, reasonably priced restaurant. Little details tell you that the average customer is a Pakistani or an Indian: sauces never-seen-before (like the Podina Chutney), Biryanis made with Basmati rice as they are meant to be, and kebabs with a new, crispy flavor never met before. Everything is good, but the meats are outstanding, an absolute must. The desserts were also excellent. The Ras Malay, an ice-cream like coconut sweet, was a particularly welcome novelty. Incidentally, much of what you eat at Marhaba is on sale at Al Flah already prepared and frozen. In conclusion, both the store and the restaurant are names to be kept in the wallet, ready to be used. Marhaba is a must.