There’s nothing quite like wandering the city hungry, only to realise you’re near an Indian place you’ve been meaning to try. This is just what happened to me yesterday as I walked by Tokyo station and remembered Erick South. I'd heard buzz about Erick South from a number of friends and acquaintances, as it’s rather unique among Tokyo Indian restaurants. Most notable is the fact that it’s run by Japanese staff, but instead of offering bland “butter chicken” or “keema” clones like other faux Indian establishments, Erick South serves surprisingly authentic South Indian Thali meals.
Another thing that sets Erick South apart is the location. Sat at the far end of the “Yaechika” underground shopping mall on Tokyo station’s Yaesu side, the restaurant is mostly made up of counters with just a few tables on the side. This represents its first major weakness as an Indian restaurant, as it would be impossible to enjoy their food in a large group at dinner – something that we at JIMC have found to be the best way to experience the food of the gods. It’s an inoffensive but underwhelming environment, with pictures of India on the wall and Indian music playing, neither of which do much to make the place feel more authentic. But now to the real question: how is the food?
I ordered the “Erick Meals”, which for approximately 1,500 yen comes with three curries, sambar, rassam, and an unsweetened yogurt (not exactly raita), a papad, idli and vada. Normally the meals come with both basmati and Japanese rice, but they accepted my request for all basmati. I tucked into the papad, cracking it over the rice while munching on a bit as an appetiser, and though it was oilier than I like it tasted fine. Before dumping any sauces on my rice I went around to taste them all individually.
The sambar and rassam were tamer than I’d have hoped, but tasty and well flavoured. There was a daikon radish and carrot curry, clearly a Japanese concoction, that had a nice hint of coconut but was ultimately too bland for my taste. A drier potato and eggplant dish also lacked that Indian flavour-magic but was wholesome and enjoyable. Finally I had selected a mutton curry because it was labeled “spicy”, and though it lacked heat it packed good flavour and tender meat. Though it was all far from the quality we’ve seen at other South Indian favourites around town, I found myself greedily and gleefully shovelling away at my mound of basmati and curry, and soon worked my way through the idli, vada and yogurt leaving a clean plate and a satisfied belly.
Upon further reflection, Erick South’s “meal” was the tastiest and most authentic Indian meal prepared by Japanese people I’d had to date. It was somewhat reminiscent of the curries we had at the Love India festival – made with skill but clearly tempered for Japanese tastes. As I looked around me, almost all of the other customers were younger Japanese women – doubtless their best and most lucrative demographic. If places like Erick South were as ubiquitous as the boring “butter chicken” and naan joints, Japan’s Indian Cuisine landscape would be much brighter. I hope this is the start of a trend for more authentic Japanese-Indian restaurants – if I had an Erick South inside my local station you can bet I’d be in there once a week at least. They may not be on a par with Nirvanam or Andrha, but this quick and easy Indian-style fix is definitely worth popping into.