Sunday turned into a bit of a curry fest for Chris P. and I, as we went pretty much the whole late afternoon and evening with curry-fuelled grins on our faces. First, we headed over to a Jingumae for an event set up as part of the Farmer’s Market called Curry and Beer Festival, where they were serving up a decent selection of curries and beers in the premises of the United Nations University. We didn’t quite make it in time for a full-on feast, with many of the stalls displaying “sold out” signs not long after we’d arrived. We did manage to grab a Chana Masala and samosa at Spice Magic Calcutta’s stall, however, and that went down well with several craft beers. After the emergence of events like this and Love India, adding to the more well-established events like Namaste India and Diwali in Yokohama, it’s good to see this kind of thing happening more and more in Tokyo. Hopefully the recent upsurge in interest in Indian food in Japan will see more events like this becoming popular.
With our appetites far from satisfied, we decided to head over to Minami Aoyama with a few friends to sample the delights of another fantastic branch of the Mumbai group and a shop that specializes in southern Indian cuisine: Pondichery. As we were in a group, we went to town a bit when ordering: We went for Black Pepper Chicken (a Mumbai staple) and Saag Paneer for the first round of curries, and mixed vegetable biryani, masala dosa, roti, paratha, Tomato Uttappam and some papad and beer to accompany.
The curries, as expected, were cooked to perfection and the winning combination with the roti and paratha had everyone singing the meal’s praises. The masala dosa (which came with a portion of sambar and creamy coconut-based sauce) was a real stand out, and the combination with the curry and biryani was just immense, and we found ourselves battling over the last remaining scrapes of each dish. Chris noticed that there was some of the perfectly oily paratha remaining, so up went his hand and he ordered some Dal Tadka to round us off. It was slightly optimistic as we were all stuffed by this stage, but we love a challenge. The dish arrived: the slightly roasted lentils matched perfectly within the refined sauce and this was mixed with a couple of remaining spoonfuls of biryani, its mild citrus mingling with roasty and ginger infused mix, providing a overall warming flavour.
We couldn’t quite get over the line with it all, so we took the rest out in a doggie bag, and it was just left to Chris P. and I to haggle over who was taking it home. Chris must have seen a hint of desperation in my eyes. The leftovers made a great lunch for me the next day.
There are a few Indian and Nepalese restaurants to choose from in the Ichikawa area, and in proximity to Ichikawa JR station there are a couple of reasonably good ones. The most well-known and best quality in my experience is Sapna, which is easy to recognize and find by the large elephant head protruding from the wall outside, so conspicuous that every time I see it it tempts me in before I can think of any other places I might want to try.
I stumbled on a new place the other day at lunch after cycling for 30 minutes over there in the baking heat: Queen Garden. The restaurant is around the corner from Sapna (about 4 minutes on foot), and it turned out to be very reasonable alternative, offering a fairly detailed menu of Nepalese and Indian dishes in a welcoming atmosphere, and with decent and friendly service.
I got there about 1pm and asked if I could order from the dinner menu. For starter I went for papad, and some Afghan Chicken. For main I went for Aloo Gobi (extra hot), naan (unfortunately the only option), rice (they had basmati but I was told it would take 40 minutes to prepare, so I slummed it), and a well-earned, refreshing beer as a reward for my journey.
The papad was plain and went well with the beer, but just made me want to drink more – I necked about 4 glasses of water while waiting for the main course. A dip of some sort would've been nice, but you can't have everything. The Aloo arrived: the decent portion of potato, cauliflower and onion mix was both filling and satisfying. It would've gone down even better with basmati and chapati, but the plain rice and naan did their stodgy thing. The Afghan Chicken came out at the same time, and though it would've been better served at the start, was tasty, succulent, and dry with a light sprinkling of white pepper.
The Aloo wasn't hot to taste but gave an all over warming sensation, which came from the well-balanced spice and the ginger, and by the end I felt full but not stuffed. It was definitely a good effort for a sudden lunch arrival ordering from the dinner menu – the next time I pay a visit, I'll be calling ahead to make sure they are prepared and to have basmati on the go etc. After a few minutes, I got the very reasonable bill of ¥2,100 and was ready to make the cycle journey home. It's a bit of distance, but with the kind service and the promise of basmati (not provided by Sapna), it's a strong alternative to that alluring elephant.
Map, contact, opening times here
I was in town on Monday and yenning for curry so I used the opportunity to visit a great little Indian restaurant located in the backstreets of West Shinjuku. I have been meaning to try out Cochin Nivas for a while, as it has been hanging around on the list of recommended places to eat both southern and northern Indian cuisine in Tokyo. I went there with a friend at around 8pm and the only seats available were a couple at the counter. So, facing the kitchen and eye-to-eye with the chefs, sniffing up large gulps of slightly acrid but satisfying, burning, spice-filled air, we went about ordering from the detailed menu.
For starters, we went for pakora, papad, and a couple of beers. For mains we went for Punjab Chicken, Saag Paneer, paratha, and a plate of basmati. The first thing you notice about Cochin Nivas's portions is that they are fairly small – the papad were three half slices and not overly filling for two. Luckily, the pakora came out, so that helped us get properly warmed up. The deliciously crispy, battered mixed vegetables were great but, as my dining partner pointed out, a little dry, so we ordered a bowl of raita to complement the dish. We both agreed that they should probably have just offered this as “service” anyway – all Indian restaurants should try to do this with starters (papad, pakora, samosa etc.). It would make the whole experience a lot more satisfying.
Our mains came. The Saag Paneer was thick, deep, and delicious, and although my friend said it would be better with more salt, I found it thoroughly enjoyable without, and in fact felt very encouraged that this restaurant avoids over-salting their food to give the customer a extra kick at the expense of distracting from the other myriad of deep and complex flavours.
The Punjab Chicken was equally nice; the peppery gravy was thick and creamy and the decent cuts of chicken cooked until just the right level of soft. The small bowl of basmati and small portion of paratha both satisfied too, with my friend eventually handing over plate-emptying duties to me, and I duly obliged without protest.
At the end of the meal, I asked the chef if they do any off-the-menu specials (this is a JIMC standard question), and he replied simply, fixing my with his eyes: “many, many”. So, I can say with a fair degree of certainty that there is going to be a lot to explore at Cochin Nivas, and that deserves a full review (or a few reviews), which is probably the best excuse I have for going back there many, many times.
Map, contact, opening times here
I was recently asked about where you can get a decent Indian curry tabehodai or buffet in Tokyo and surrounding areas, and though I recommended two of the best we've had thus far – Nirvanam, Kamiyacho (lunch) and Delhi Dhaba, Nishi-Kasai (dinner) – I thought I'd see if I could add to the list. This OTM covers another fine southern Indian restaurant in the Nishi-Kasai area, and one which offers a great buffet lunch with an array of tempting options, and at a very reasonable price: Amudhasurabhi.
Amudhasurabhi is located a short distance from the north exit of Nishi-Kasai station (Tozai Line) and is easy to find once you see the landmark of Y's Mart on the opposite side of the road and to the left. We got there around 1pm on Sunday and the place was empty apart from one other customer. We signed up for the buffet, which had a great range of southern Indian goodies, including Keerai Vadai (a deep-fried savoury donut made with dal, spinach, and coriander), Urulai Soya Varuval (a kind of crunchy fried potato), Thakari Rasam and Katharikan Sambhar (thali staples), Yuugao Kutto (calabash (bottle gourd)), and Malabar Fish Curry (derived from the Kerala region). All of this came on repeat with basmati rice, Malabar Parotta, salad and sweets (kheer, pasayam).
As we had arrived at what seemed to be slap bang in the middle of the lunch serving, most of what we got from the buffet was a little lukewarm, which was a bit of a let down, and about 20 minutes into our meal the restaurant suddenly started to fill up until there were no sets left and a couple of people queuing. At that stage, the staff replenished the buffet (which made sense as the the food would flow more economically between kitchen and customer), but we were too full to take advantage of it.
The food, despite not being as warm as we would like, still went down very well and especially the Yuugao Kutto, which was deep and flavourful and full of the soft bottle gourd, dal, and a spinkle of mustard seed. Some warm parotta came out, which helped us clean up what remained in our katoris, and we ended up satisfied with the meal, and full but not to the point of feeling overly stuffed.
So, all in all a good lunch, but slightly badly timed. I'm going to wait until I've tried the evening menu to do a full review of Amudhasurabhi, as I believe it is going to be right up there on the list of the best. If you do go for lunch, and I do recommend it, get there early or a little later than we did, or you might be left wanting more, as new waves of people get the best on offer and you're left with a full stomach and a pang of food envy.
Weekend Lunch Buffet (1h):
Adults - ¥ 1200
Kids - ¥600