In a town with the best food, Indian restaurants shine

Food & Drink - July 1st, 1994

by Rob Lowe

Among cosmopolitan citizens of the world—and we all consider ourselves to be of that particular ilk, do we not?—it is the general consensus of culinary opinion that our very own home town of Tokyo-to has along its boulevards and dori, down its sidestreets and in various citadels the finest restaurants in the world. Hark! I hear residents of Paris shouting “Nay! Charla­tan! Forsooth!” and exclamations of that sort. I ac­knowledge that Paris has a large number of fine res­taurants—French restaurants, that is. Just as Hamburg and Munich have better German food restaurants. And Rome and Milan probably have better Italian restau­rants.

Point old Rob is making today is that Tokyo has a better selection of terrific restaurants of a wider vari­ety of ethnic foods than any other major city on the planet. Tokyo has simply excellent Italian restaurants, some fine German, terrific French, really good Span­ish cafes. Truly fine what-they-call Continental restaurants, largely in hotel dining rooms, and some of the best Chinese and Korean eateries anywhere, and that includes Beijing and Seoul.

You’ll not find a better ‘burger anywhere than at Ari’s LampLight, Marty Kuehnert’s Attic, Franklin Avenue or the Mixed Grille in the Tokyo American Club.

OK, I’ll admit we come up short in Greek food or Mexican fare, although years ago Tony Burget came close with his El Senor deal, and the old Double Axe wasn’t all that bad. Irene’s Hungarian was terrif in the old days of the late ’50s, early ’60s, but that was an­other time and, practically, another place.

Today we want to consider Tokyo’s wealth of In­dian restaurants—surely some of the finest in the world. And such a wide variety and such fervent com­petition between the chain facilities. I am not qualified to compare the Indian food in Delhi or Bombay (as far as that goes, many will tell you I’m not qualified to comment on anything) to that in Tokyo and environs, but if it gets any better than that served at Maharaja, for example, or Samrat or The Taj, well we just couldn’t bear it, could we?

In the dim dark days of the post-Occupation era, there was one and only one Indian restaurant patron­ized by most gaijin: Nair’s down on the dusty streets of lower Ginza. (Really; they were unpaved then.) As the foreign community burgeoned and grew, more Indian restaurants blossomed and their popularity grew in equal proportions.

One of the prime drawing cards with this plethora of fine Indian restaurants—maybe the primary one, in these precarious economic times—is the relatively low prices for Indian fare. You can virtually feast on fine, spicy curries, nan, Tandoori chicken and all sorts of mouth-watering servings and still have enough for a couple of cold beers—and not have to take out a sec­ond mortgage.

Many Indian restaurants nowadays are specializ­ing in healthful vegetarian dishes which maintain the distinctive flavor of India while keeping cholesterol levels low.

Rather than concentrate on a single restaurant or even a chain, this time we’ll give a run-down on the many alternatives available to Indian flood lovers— and I know very few people who don’t just dote on this tangy food. I’m sure each of you has his favorite.

First we’ll take the Maharaja chain. Their ad reads, “For the very finest of the genre—spicy, tasty yet healthful—the Maharaja is the place to go! Big or small parties, up to 200 people OK.” Maharaja has five out­lets over town; their locations and phone numbers are: Ginza, 3572-7196; Ginza Komatsu, 3575-0726; Hibiya, 3580-6423; Shibuya 109, 3477-5188, and Shinjuku, 3354-0222, ext. 361. Call and ask for directions; they’ll be cheerfully given.

Mr. Yog Kapoor and his brothers run the extensive Samrat chain of Indian restaurants, now boasting two new cafes—in Kichijoji, 2F Baus Town 1-11-23, Kichijoji Honcho, tel: (0422) 20-8671; and Shimokitazawa, 3F Piaza Omiya Bldg., 2-25-17, Kitazawa, Setagaya-ku. tel: 5454-1872. The other five Samrat restaurants arc in Shibuya, 6F Koyas Bldg., 13-7, Udagawa-cho, tel: 3496-9410; Roppongi, 3F Shojikiya Bldg., 10-10 Roppongi 4-chome, Minato-ku, tel: 3478-5877; Pub Samrat in Shibuya, Bl Kiraku Bldg., 29-2, Udagawa-cho, Shibuya-ku, tel: 3770-7275; Ueno Samrat, 2F Oak Bldg., 8-9, Ueno 4-chome, Taito-ku, tel: 5688-6226, and Shinjuku Samrat, 7F Seno Bldg., 18-4 Shinjuku 3-chome, Shinjuku-ku, tel: 3355-1771.

Two massive Indian food chains are The Taj and Moti’s, with outlets, literally, all over town. The decor and attractive service in both chains are superb. To find a Taj or a Moti nearest you, please call the main offices of each—or both. Moti’s headquarters is located at 2F Akasaka Floral Bldg., 3-8-8 Akasaka, Minato-ku, tel: 3582-3620.

In addition, the Ajanta folks have information about their restaurants at two central locations: 3-11 Nibancho, Chiyoda-ku, tel: 3264-6955, and the Kamakura Branch, 1-9-24, Yukinoshita, Kamakura City tel: (0467) 23-3727.

Surely one of Tokyoites’ favorite Indian chow chains is The Taj which features an extensive catering ser­vice together with superb cooking in their three fine cafes in the Kanto Plain area. Their promotional copy reads, ‘To spice up your next party, use our new catering service. Call or fax our Akasaka restaurant with enquiries.” Their restaurants are in Akasaka, 2-7, Akasaka 3-chome, Minato-ku, tel: 3586-6606, or fax: 3505-0997 (for the catering service); Shinjuku, 7F Isctan Dept. Store tel., 3354-2305, and Kashiwa in Chiba, Takashima Station Mall, tel: (0471) 48-2173.

The Ajanta downtown restaurant has this to say about their fare: “Pure vegetarian and rich Halal non-vegetarian…South Indian and Tandoori dishes.” They’re open 24 hours a day just in front of the Yurakucho Subway Line Kojimachi Station, outside the Bancho Exit. Phone: 3264-6955.

A specialty chain featuring Islamic (Halal) food, the Royal Bengal, has two outlets and Tandoor 7 is another, all under the same management. Featuring Bangladeshi, Indian, Pakistani and Arabian dishes, the restaurants are located in Nihonbashi, 5F Gyokuido Bldg., tel: 3249-6919; in Shibuya, 2F Metro Plaza, tel: 3498-0916; and in Kinshicho on Kuramaebashi-dori, tel: 3829-5877.

These fine Indian restaurants will give you a clue, a guide, to great dining pleasure. You might have your favorite Indian restaurant that you’d like us to tell our readers about. If so, drop Rob Lowe a line at Week­ender. We’ll pass the word along.