Christine Cunanan-Miki dines Bollywood style
Tokyo is awash with good Indian restaurants, but among these Samrat stands out. This favorite has been dishing up authentic food amidst a lively atmosphere since 1980. With over a dozen branches all over the metropolis, it’s hard to miss one of this chain’s signboards with its distinctive Sanskrit-inspired red lettering.
Happily, regardless of which Samrat branch you visit, you’ll find the same old favorites: Baigan Shahi Korma, Chicken Karhai, Panir Korma, Tandoori Chicken and Daal Makhani, among others. Each branch offers almost the same menu, although the decor and atmosphere varies with each place.
Recently, however, Yog Kapoor, Samrat’s founder and CEO, embarked on an entirely new dining concept that is now in full swing at the recently-refurbished Samrat branch in Hiroo. Mr. Kapoor, a music lover who started out as a movie director in India’s Bollywood before moving to Japan and opening his first restaurant close to 25 years ago, felt it was time to give lovers of Indian food a different experience. “I think some customers now want something more interesting when they go out at night,” said Mr. Kapoor. “They want good food but they also now want good entertainment. I thought, why not have a restaurant and a music lounge at the same time?” So from Thursday to Saturday each week, Samrat Hiroo now offers diners a live show featuring a vivacious Japanese lady on vocals: Diva Noriko. She skillfully belts out ballads and jazz songs with a fieriness that would put many Latinos to shame.
We visited Samrat Hiroo one recent Friday night to enjoy a few curries and to hear Diva Noriko as well. When we arrived at 8pm Diva Noriko was up on the stage singing a lively love song, and the place was already full. Everyone was in a festive mood and the aromas from the kitchen quickly made us hungry — a combination that certainly made for a promising evening. We secured the last two chairs in the house, across two middle-aged Japanese gentlemen and hurriedly ordered the usual samosa appetizers, a chicken masala and a variety of curries.
Being a ‘foodie,’ I was initially apprehensive about being able to get a proper meal in a restaurant that was now part mini-concert hall as well. Thankfully, our orders arrived promptly and every dish was as delicious as Samrat dishes have always been. And now we even had first-rate entertainment to enjoy while we ate.
I wondered what other diners thought of this novel idea, particularly of mixing Latin music with curry. “Are you here for the food or the music?” I asked the young couple seated in the next table. “We’re here for both,” the man answered, without hesitation. “I love Indian food and she’s a fan of Diva Noriko. This is a great combination for us.”
Brick Hiroo 2F, 5-15-22 Minami Azabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo. Tel. 03-5447-1886, www.samrat.co.jp.