Topoli - Iranian ***
Address - 1F Rinna 92 Bl, 7-17-16 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Opening hours - every day from 11:00 to 23:00
Telephone - 03-5474-4412
Menu- In English and Japanese
Credit cards - OK
Some time ago I went to Kichi Joji to buy a Persian rug, something I had never done before, and I must say that, even though my interest in Middle Eastern craftsmanship has always been and still is just cursory, I was blown away by the splendor (and price) of what was on offer. Magnificent stuff, well worth even that sort of money.
In any case, before paying I thought it worthwhile to ask the Iranian fellow at the counter for the address of his favorite Persian restaurant. He mentioned Roppongi's Topoli, a name which I am told means "Fat Boy", but that I find somewhat funny because it sounds like Topolino, Mickey Mouse's name in my native Italian. I decided to try Topoli even though, after having been to several Iranian restaurants in a couple of countries, I must say I'd normally rather spend my money somewhere else: don't be offended if you are from Iran, but in my opinion your cuisine is similar to, but by far blander than, the Turkish or the Lebanese.
Their business card says the interior is cute, but I would rather say cutesy. Imagine an unsuccessful imitation of a Viennese café, and you will get the general idea: a very unlikely setting for a Persian restaurant.
Ordered a pomegranate juice, we started examining the menu, and I couldn't help noticing right away the presence of, mirabile visu, Mexican guacamole and fajitas. As it's my belief that no self-respecting restaurant would mix apple and pears, even when both are excellent, those two entries sent shock waves to my brain. And besides, I can't believe that to fill the menu of an Iranian restaurant one needs help from the Mexicans.
Prices are average, say 1000-1300 yen per dish, but the list is neither particularly exciting or particularly long: as at Shibuya's Jam-e-Jaam, it consists mostly of skewered meats, which is what we ended up ordering, and some unremarkable salad or soup. Anonymity is the best word to define Topoli, and while I must admit that service is good and food not too bad, I cannot see myself going back ever again. First of all, if I wanted to eat Iranian food I'd rather go to Ali Baba, more professional and having a better menu: luckily enough, it's just few hundred meters away. Second, as I said, I have come to realize that Iranian food isn't the best the Middle East has to offer: unless you absolutely want Shish Kebab and the unique type of rice you find only at Iranian restaurants (the longest grains I have ever seen),you will be better off eating Turkish or Arab.
One last thing: Topoli sells no alcohol whatsoever.
Ali Baba - Persian ****
Address - Azabu Sakurada Heights 1 Flr., 3-2-7 Nishi Azabu, Minato-ku
Opening hours - from 11:30 am to 2:00 pm (lunch) and from 6:00 pm to 10:30 pm (dinner). Closed on Sunday
Telephone - 03-3470-1497
Menu - In English and Japanese
Credit cards - No
I found Ali Baba in Volume 12 of the "Wining & Dining in Tokyo" series of restaurant guides by BWC Books, and decided to give it a try. In its own way, it's a unique, incredible little place. As the review in the guide says, the main reason for recommending Ali Baba is its authenticity: not only they are Halal, they do not even serve alcohol.
The two Iranian cooks are hospitable and friendly fellows with broad faces that will make you feel at home right away even if they speak no English and no Japanese. No need for neckties, here.
Many people, and especially the Japanese, will find Ali Baba too simple and cheap-looking for their tastes, but I like very much its homeliness. That is not to say that the food has no merit: their Kebabs are among the best I have ever had, and the food in general is robust, tasty and true. They serve a very special type of rice I have seen only once before in a Persian restaurant near Venice, with extremely long, cylindrical grains, truly excellent and vaguely similar to the Indian rice variety Basmati. During the summer months you can have dinner at the table outside, and enjoy the evening breeze chatting with your friends. Recommended.
Pros: Friendly, simple and genuine. Good food.
Cons: To some it might be too informal.