Getting directions in Japan can be an arduous task. You can do the koban (sometimes good, sometimes not so good), ask someone on the street (good - not uncommon to be literally escorted to your destination), or occasionally ask at the nearest conbini (convenience store) - not always the most reliable. On the trail of one highly regarded Indian restaurant last week, we found ourselves a bit stumped with the Google map guiding us around at will. We were looking for Pondichery in Aoyama and from the description on the website it says it is two minutes from Aoyama-Ichiome station, exit 4. Coming out of the exit and looking at the map, we were none the wiser where to go, and walked aimlessly up and down the street, being directed only by landmarks on the shifting, sparse drawing on the small iPhone 6 screen, telling us it was near Curry House CoCo Ichiban, just over the street. It wasn’t. We asked at a Family Mart, which was met with much bemusement. After a few shou shou omachi kudasais and sumimasens, and after a staff conference for several minutes, they opted to ask a couple of young lads who looked no older than ten. Finally, someone pointed out if we went down the street, past the koban, and right at the post office, we would find it. So we did. Ten minutes later we were outside not Pondichery, but Samrat. Through sheer hunger and frustration, we conceded and decided we’d better research more thoroughly next time (turns out Pondichery was a bit further down the street).
The restaurant was empty, so we were served straight away. I’m guessing that Samrat makes most it money from lunchtime customers if this Saturday evening at 8pm was anything to go by. It's an expensive area, so they have to make their bread and butter (naan) somehow. The service was friendly, though we got a bit bombarded with questions – Where are you from? How long have you lived in Japan? Where do you live? Where do you work? Which is fine, but I'm not always in the mood for spilling out a load of private info when I’m out for dinner with a friend on a Saturday night. Anyway, I took it as the staff just being extra friendly as we were the only ones there and foreigners that had just come in off the street.
We ordered some papad, and Chicken Tikka on the bone to start, and a couple of bottles of Boss beer (no Kingfisher, unfortunately). We went for Mutton Rogan Josh and Chicken Tikka Masala for mains, accompanied by a roti, a paratha, and some Basmati rice (kindly appreciated, Samrat). The papad and Tikka were standard – I almost asked for some dips when the papad came, but thought better of it as I already knew what the answer would be. The Tikka was a touch dry (it was brought out almost immediately, leading us to believe that it had probably just been warmed up and served to us). The curries came next. My dining partner had the CTM, and was pleased with it despite there being a distinct lack of chicken in it. Flavour wise it ticked all the usual boxes. The Rogan Josh was great, though – soft mutton in a fresh, thick gravy that satisfied with every bite. The combination with the Basmati was fantastic; the Basmati had abundance of fennel seeds, was fresh, and complimented the food so well – a friend recently commented about how they love Koshihikari with their Indian curry, but it’s Basmati all the way for me.
It was a quiet night so the staff lingered around out front, which didn't give off a great air of professionalism. However, the experience was a good one at Samrat and it will stay on the list of top quality Indian restaurants in Tokyo. However, with the rugby World Cup and the Olympics coming to Japan, it would be a good chance for Indian restaurants to up their game to take advantage of the massive influx of sports and curry fans. This includes making information about where restaurants are and what they have to offer as crystal clear as possible. I can just imagine the faces of the conbini staff when scores of discombobulated foreigners start badgering them en masse for directions to the best curry restaurants in town.