I learnt my lesson the other day with a pre-gig outing to Sahifa Kebab Biryani just down from the koban on the main crossing in Roppongi. Chris and I went there for lunch with our mate Soupsey, thinking a full stomach would be good preparation for the show ahead. We asked for the hottest of whatever they had on the menu; we got what we asked for. Chris decided it was only right to go for Sahifa’s trademark biryani, extra hot, and I went for the two-curry set consisting of Saag Chicken and Vegetable Curry. While asking how hot we wanted it, we were told the highest heat count was only three, so I asked for four or whatever, thinking it was lunch so it would probably be only mildly hot. We also opted for some Tandoori Chicken, naan (unfortunately, the only bread at lunch), rice, and beers.
When the food came out, we got stuck into our own, with Chris announcing in a haze of sweat how much kick the biryani was packing. I was already a couple of spoonfuls into my saag when it occurred to me that the accumulating heat was coming from freshly cut chillies. A couple more in and I stopped, looked at Chris, saying "My god, try that" pointing at the saag. We always go for the hottest dishes possible, but I said to him, as my face started dripping and the inside of my mouth rapidly caught fire, I thought it might be too hot to finish. Chris said his was hot, too, so I tried a spoonful; felt nothing. He had a go at mine, remarking that he’d never seen me have a reaction to a spice level like this before, and his eyes lit up. I was mixing it up with the equally-hot vegetable dish, but about three-quarters of the way in, I had to stop. That was me done. I've never not been able to finish a curry, but this one had me beaten.
We went to pay and I asked the guys behind the counter what spice level people usually order. They said mostly two. I said "Never three...four?" "No, never, sir." I put this experience down to not having eaten really top end spicy curries for a while and so my tolerance has taken a hit. For a lunch curry, it wasn't just hot, it was incredibly tasty, too, and hit the mark in so many ways, so we plan to go back better prepared and take it on. The gig went well, but someone mentioned afterwards that I looked a little nervous on entering the stage. I assured them that any fear in my expression was not performance-related and instead all to do with the fire still burning at my core reminding me that I'm going to have to go back at some point and finish the beast off.
A little outing on Monday saw a visit to Masala Dining in Shinjuku, one of the first places we covered on JIMC. Apart from the very agreeable service and tidy décor, Masala offers a great menu with a good range of curries and side dishes.
Our eyes were immediately drawn to a mixed kebab starter which went down an absolute treat with a couple of beers and papad — to be honest, we could've probably stopped there, so filling were the kebabs (the photo doesn't really do it justice). However, we persevered. For mains, we opted for Saag Paneer and Lamb Masala, both of which came with a generous serving of ingredients in deep and flavourful sauces. My dining partner, who’s not known for his vegetarianism, had the paneer and said it was one of the best he had had thus far in Tokyo. My dish, the Masala, was fantastic, with big chunks of soft, lean meat — a great substitute for the chicken I would usually order. We went for roti and paratha as breads and asked about basmati, which they unfortunately did not have. The floor manager, not wanting us to go without, said he would go to their sister restaurant and bring us back some long grain rice; it made the world of difference. By the time we left, we didn’t even have space for an extra beer at the pub around the corner. A veritable feast that was both tasty and truly satisfying.
If you are in Shinjuku, we highly recommend this place. And if you have a big appetite for curry, you’re in for a treat.
Full info here
JR Shinjuku Station East Exit 5-minute walk
Monday - Sunday
Lunch: 11:00 - 17:00
Dinner: 17:00 - 23:00 (L.O.22:30)
2 Chome−4−6 (LOFT GINZA Velvia 館 7F)
Hours: 11AM–2:30PM, 5:30–10:30PM
We stumbled upon this great little place the other night while trying to decide where to go after a couple of pints in our favourite pub in Hiroo, right next to Hiroo station. We usually go to Priya but we wanted to branch out a little, so we headed down the road towards Nishi-Azabu hoping that we would find somewhere to match the quality of the area. We were not disappointed.
We got to Vinaya around 7pm and it was relatively quiet. The staff gave us a warm and friendly welcome, which continued throughout, and this wasn't just because the shop wasn't so busy; they clearly want their customers to feel comfortable and this was reflected in the way that they were attentive from start to finish. We ordered some starters: papad, Chicken Tikka and Malai Tikka, and a couple of beers, which really set the tone. The chicken was soft, succulent, and delicately marinated, and presented in a way to prime us for the mains.
For mains we ordered Mutton Rogan Josh (recommended for its extra kick) and Saag Chicken, along with Tandoori Roti and basmati rice, all of which came to us cooked as close to perfection as we have had in Tokyo. At this point we agreed this was on par with the kind of quality you can get in the UK, and both curries were similar in taste and volume. The meat of both was generous and soft and mingled in the abundance of sauce in each of the dishes. The roti were fresh and just a little bit crispy on the outside, making it easy to gather up big scoops of sauce and meat. Adding the basmati to the mix rounded off the wonderful combination of flavours, all of which were perfectly packed together, essential for the kind of curry dining experience we are always on the lookout for.
If we lived anywhere near Vinaya, we would be here all the time. The service and food were excellent. It's a hidden jewel of Tokyo that shouldn't be missed, and if you are ever in Hiroo, or the surrounding areas looking for a top curry experience, it's just down the road from Hiroo station and definitely worth your while.
We headed down to Ikebukuro this week to try out a shop with a great reputation in the area: A-Raj. The shop, once on the main road and now only a short walk on the backstreet behind it, offers a great selection of curries, and is well-known as much for its variety of superb southern Indian dishes as it is for its affable, talkative owner Mr. Almita Raj. On visiting A-Raj, you will see him in the kitchen, toiling away to produce a wonderful array of dishes, with items on the lunch menu rotated on a daily basis. With such a hands-on approach, it is easy to understand how Mr. Raj's culinary passion draws people from far and wide and why queues often form outside the shop.
Chris and I went there for lunch, ordering the meat and vegetarian Thali ‘meals’, respectively. In the meat meals alone, there were four curries: Chicken, Saag Mutton, Mutton Keema, and Vegetable Curry, then added to that was Cabbage Kootu, Lady Finger Pula Kuzhambu, Coconut Burfi, rice, puri, papad, and achar. There were no refills as there are at other places around Tokyo that do the lunchtime Thali sets, and there was no need. We were both stuffed by the end, but agreed not uncomfortably so, which is often the reaction we get after eating southern Indian food with its delicate balance of light ingredients and certainly not the kind of stuffed feeling you get after an assault of all-you-can-eat naan and rice. We got speaking to Mr. Raj and ended up staying for an hour longer than planned – it’s great to speak to someone who shares a passion for the same food, but even better when that person is full of knowledge of not just the food as it is now but the origins and culture behind it.
All-in-all, a thoroughly good lunch and we will be going back for dinner sometime very soon as there are so many more delicious-sounding curry dishes and tiffins to explore at A-Raj. Will have to time it right, though. Don't imagine our sanity lasting very long if we have to endure standing in line with a rabid crowd of customers as enthused as we are about southern Indian food.
Full details here
It’s always nice when you hit the culinary jackpot in unexpected places. This was the case on Friday night when I was introduced to a relatively new restaurant just a short walk from Chiba station: Bengal Tiger. As is generally agreed, curry should be a shared experience, and heading down there with a few people really helped as there were so many great-sounding options on the menu, and travelling in numbers meant we could go for several of them. Luckily, one of the people in the party was very familiar with the menu, so we were able to just sit back and wait for the magic to start. First, we went for a couple of starters, which included Tandoori Chicken and Bengal Tiger Chicken Kebab. As the restaurant specializes in Indian, Singaporean, and south-east Asian cuisine, we also went for the highly-recommended and spicy Green Papaya Salad. Our experienced party member recommended a few items off the list, and I went for Chicken Sag, with the other guests going for Bengal Tiger Butter Chicken and Yogurt Chicken. On top of this, I ordered Egg & Onion Paratha, rice (they only serve basmati), and a few beers.
First out was the Papaya Salad (shrimp variety), which came with a decorative, edible flower. If you are into your spicy salads, this comes highly recommended. It was the dish that packed the most punch out of all of them on the night! The shrimp were fresh and the vegetables crisp and crunchy, and the zest from the juice lifted all the ingredients and performed a merry dance in the mouth.
Next came the Tandoori and Kebab. The fresh meat of the Tandoori was bathed in just the right amount of marinade, and the ornamental design of both dishes tempted you to not destroy the aesthetic, but that didn't last long. The chunks of Tandoori were up there with the best I’ve had since starting this blog, and I slightly neglected the kebab in favour of doubling down on the delicately cooked, peppery meat.
After this came the mains. Well, I can say this, I have neither had better looking or tasting curry in Chiba. The Sag was immense, the thick sauce deep and complex, which was complemented superbly with both beetroot-dyed onion and crispy shards of fried onion. Mixed together with the fantastically light paratha, the egg and onion offering their own little surprises, this was a dish to die for. If I could pick any fault with it, it was a little milder than I wanted, as I’d requested it to be extra-hot, but I was reassured after that I could go a lot hotter on my next visit, which will, I guarantee, be very soon.
All-in-all a very satisfying meal, and with the service being fantastic too, well worth the trip down if you are from Tokyo or beyond. The other dishes were all up there with the Sag, but I will leave it there for now so that anyone curry-hunting down this way can find out for themselves. There is something growling in the bushes in Sen City, but this one requires you to do the biting.
I finally made it out this afternoon to a store at the heart of Tokyo that has been on my list of top places to visit ever since it opened a few months ago: Nandhini, Toranomon. After trying their sister store in Kiyosumi Shirakawa a couple of times, I was fairly sure they would come up with the goods, so I headed down there with my family in tow, which included a fussy 5-year old whose preference for butter chicken had me wondering if I’d be better off trying the place by myself another time.
We arrived at lunchtime and it was fairly quiet, though the single floor staff member became increasingly run off his feet as the place started to fill up, including a group of 10. The menu was packed with so many wonderful-sounding choices that it was tough to decide – do I go for the Kerala set, Nandhini set, Three-curry set, Dosa set, or “Meals” set? Each had an array of mouthwatering options, but I eventually went for the Non-veg version of Meals simply for the fact that sambar and rasam were on repeat and a second portion of basmati was only ¥100 extra. On top of that, there were two other curries (chicken and veg), a marinated chicken dish, papad, puri, acha, yogurt, and desert. The meals came out reasonably quickly considering it appeared that the only other staff member was a single kitchen staff.
I went to work on the dry chicken and curries first, which provided a decent fill of soft cut meat and vegetables. Then I went for the sambar and rasam, mixing it up with mounds of basmati. The curries were bursting with flavor, and I very quickly got into shoveling mode, my mind being taken over by the combination of spices and complexities of the tadka. My only compliant would be that the papad was soft and the puri wasn’t puffed up and lively like they usually are – I suspected that the kitchen had prepared these in advance, anticipating the lunch rush – but it didn’t distract too much from the overall flavor explosion. After my katoris were emptied, I went for more rasam and sambar, and got more basmati in, kindly sharing some of it with my dining partners. Sharing is caring.
All in all a great lunch at Nandhini, and I will be heading there again soon, and probably in the evening as I want to take advantage of their nice outside seating deck and the wide-ranging menu. Also, the bill was under ¥2,000, and that included the lunch drink option, so I’ll be back there for lunch again, and will be opting for their dosa if I can resist one of the other options. Doubt I’ll be taking my son again, though. He didn’t finish his, so I obliged for him – even though I was ready to burst, can’t let a good curry go to waste. The restaurant is a decent size, so I would recommend it for large groups or families, but the restaurant might need to rethink its staff distribution at lunch if the popularity of the place really starts to take off.
Courtesy of Jen Reviews: https://www.jenreviews.com/chicken-marsala-recipe/
Course: Main Course
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
By Phall NaanD
I made it over to Kinshicho the other day to try out Venus South Indian Dining once again. It’s the second time I’ve been there for lunch, and as it is buffet style, I made sure I went there with a decent appetite. For their lunch deal, they serve four different types of curry each day. That day, they had on offer Chicken Bhindi Masala, Niboshi Potato Kolambu, Palak Kootu, and Daikon Lubia Masala. I arrived just after the lunchtime rush but the place was still doing good business. I found a table near the window – Venus’s 1F location provides a bright atmosphere from its décor of light brown wood, white walls, all which are further illuminated by the large windows looking out onto the street.
As soon as I was seated I was encouraged to help myself to the curries, which sat in heated trays near the open kitchen at the back of the shop. After filling four katoris up to the brim, I added salad and rice (unfortunately not basmati, but you can’t have everything), and asked for bread options. For this you have to request it from the chef, whose jolly countenance made the only option being naan easier to bear. The good thing about this ordering method is that the naan comes piping hot – some buffets just have it out on trays so when you get it it has cooled and gone hard, making it even less palatable.
So, with my katoris overflowing, I got stuck in. The Chicken Bhindi Masala was the highlight, even though it had a fair bit of chicken skin and not much in the way of chicken chunks left in the serving tray. Even more surprising was that it is essentially chicken and okra, which is the last thing I would order if given the choice, as the texture and bitterness of okra just puts me off entirely. The fact that it was cooked in masala, though, really brought a nice balance of flavours through, and had me going back for more. The Daikon Lubia Masala had a similarly nice balance to it, but I’m not fan of daikon, preferring potato any day. The Niboshi Potato Kolambu had a nice kick and was simple but effective and the Palak Kootu was bursting with a nice combination of vegetables, all complementing each other and creating a thickness in the sauce.
All in all, a great lunchtime feast, and coming in at a mere 1,000 yen, also a great deal. There are a few options around the Kinshicho area, but Venus is definitely high on the list of places if you want a tasty southern Indian experience. Just wish they would go the extra mile with basmati like you get in the Andhra chain and Dhaba etc. That would need people actually requesting it in there in the first place. I’ll try to get the ball rolling the next time I go, which will be very soon.
By Phall NaanD
There's plenty of choice for Indian curry in the Ueno/Okachimachi area but the go-to place for me is Andhra Kitchen, which, maybe unsurprisingly, is the go-to place for many people in the area, and especially as it caters for the lunchtime rush from the numerous businesses around there. Despite this, I decided to chance my arm. As soon as I turned the corner of the small backstreet which leads to the shop, however, I knew that it was going to be a long wait to get into this limited-seat shop – several people were already lined up on the stairs and out into the street. After getting over the pang of disappointment, I decided to go for Plan B: Vege Herb Saga. VHS is a mere three minutes walk from Andhra, and just on the opposite side of the railway tracks. Being a totally vegetarian place, it's not the sort of restaurant that often entices me, but I had the urge for curry and it seemed like a pretty decent alternative.
VHS offered a few choices on their lunch menu, but I went for the four-curry set with naan (they didn't offer any alternative breads). With Andhra, you get a similar though slightly more expensive deal, but the options are a lot more appealing. For just under ¥2,000 you can get three curries, sambar, rasam, acha, poriyal, papad, chapati, drink and sweet, and basmati rice, with the rice, sambar and rasam on repeat. At VHS, the thali, coming in at ¥1,350, came with choices from the above (I went for 2, 3, 5 & 6), but only with a choice of naan or rice. As this was the case, I ordered rice as well on the side, which confused the waiter, who probably doesn't get requests like that very often (it's very much one or the other there), bringing the total to ¥1,500.
The curries were delicious, thankfully, so I didn't feel like I was getting a bad deal, though the rasam was very thin, making me relieved that I had ordered rice, too – there's not much point dipping your naan in it. All in all a satisfying lunch, and definitely a good option if you can't get into Andhra around that time. Chris P went to VHS for dinner a while back and had an absolute feast so I suppose that is their strong point. Undeterred, I will certainly be heading back there for more.