by Christine Cunanan-Miki
In search of great roast beef, my husband and I are constantly visiting both new and familiar places. Some of the most memorable we’ve had have been in the United Kingdom, where roast beef is a favorite weekend lunch staple and almost every proper pub or restaurant has its own version. Late last year, we had a wonderful Sunday roast in an inn in the county of Berkshire, where an ambitious young chef, intent on a second Michelin star, prepared it with a little twist. He first slow-cooked the meat in a low temperature oven before finishing it off on a grill, and serving it with gravy and horseradish, Yorkshire pudding, potatoes, and parsnips.
Since then, we’ve tried to find proper roast beef in Tokyo with moderate success. There are lots available in this town, but few I would call juicy enough to conjure up visions of England’s rolling hills.
So far, my favorite roast beef source is the American Room of the Tokyo American Club (TAC). This is where I get my fix. I know it’s not English at all, but this members-only restaurant serves what I think is the best in town. So much so that I often joke about how I joined TAC for the roast beef; and frankly, this is not entirely untrue. On weekdays, the American Room does a delicious roast that is sliced right by your table, and then served with the appropriate paraphernalia, authentic Yorkshire pudding included. The meat is tender but not fatty, save for the sides, and it has that meaty taste that distinguishes Western-style roast beef from Japanese versions. The British friends I have taken here have been suitably impressed, and a few have even been induced to raptures.
Interestingly, we’ve often been to the American Room for the enjoyable Sunday buffets which include the roast beef and another roast meat option, usually pork; and we feel that what we’ve had with the buffet, although still tasty, is different from the weekday roast beef. It may just be my imagination or the fact that too many other dishes are competing for my attention, or it may be a very real consequence of pricing and volume; but the Sunday meat tastes different and Yorkshire pudding is nowhere to be found. So for my roast beef fix, I always make sure to book a weekday lunch table.
Another regular haunt is Roast Beef Kamakurayama which has a main restaurant in the hills of Kamakura and an Akasaka branch. Akasaka is infinitely more convenient, but the trip out to the original restaurant in Kamakura is worth it. The Kamakura restaurant is basically an old Japanese-style wooden house that has been outfitted very nicely inside with comfortable Western furnishings. Entering here the first time, I was reminded of the well-appointed Tokyo home of a European expatriate that I had seen in a coffee-table book. As with the restaurant, this expatriate had furnished an old Japanese house with carpets, sofas, paintings, side tables, and Western-style lamps, making for a pleasant East-West atmosphere.
Now, British purists may not be very happy with Roast Beef Kamakurayama’s version, which is roast beef with a French and Japanese touch, but it is delicious all the same. Top-of-the-line Japanese beef (many other places currently use New Zealand beef, which is less fatty than Japanese beef, and this makes a difference in taste) is cooked in ovens right in the main dining area, and then a slab is wheeled in its entirety to the table to be carved and then served as part of a lunch or dinner course (from ¥8,400).
The chefs here take their calling seriously. Their cooking style reminds me of the tea ceremony—meaning the process is fixed and repeated continuously, but never with any laxity—and it’s certainly a joy to anticipate. Taste-wise, it has the extra-juiciness of Japanese meat and the delicate graciousness befitting roast beef served in an old Japanese home.
Finally, remembering old haunts, I recalled some very good roast beef lunches at the aptly-named St. George’s Bar of the Hilton in Shinjuku many years ago. When I called the hotel to find out if it was still serving this, I was told that the roast beef is now available as part of the weekend lunch at the lobby’s Marble Lounge, and was assured that this was still as good as ever. Charmed by the enthusiasm of the lady I spoke to, I made a reservation for two right there and then.
The Marble Lounge buffet offers excellent value (¥4,200 for adults, ¥2,100 for children) and is very popular, especially with families. There were more dishes than I cared to count, including many old favorites like curry and beef stew. Still, the roast beef, in a separate counter, is the piece de resistance. The Hilton’s version, using very good New Zealand beef, was tender, well-done on the outside, and slightly pinkish inside, and tastier than I expected considering the reasonable prices they charged. Fried and baked potatoes and all kinds of vegetables were also available to satisfactorily tailor-make one’s own sidings. Unfortunately, there was no proper horseradish, although the Dijon mustard offered in its place actually worked well with my meat. Still, I made a mental note to take my own horseradish sauce next time.
Tokyo American Club
2-1-2 Azabudai, Minato-ku
Roast Beef Kamakurayama
3-11-1 Kamakurayama, Kamakura City
Hilton Tokyo Hotel
6-2-2 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku
If you aren’t looking to splash out quite so much but still want to tuck into a roast Sunday dinner, we suggest you try:
The Meguro Tavern
1-3-28, Sunwood Meguro Bldg. 2F (one minute from Meguro Station)
• Opens at noon on Sundays—Sunday roast lunch Includes all you can eat for ¥1,000.
Shihuya, Akasaka, and Roppongi
• Traditional Sunday roast for just ¥999 includes a choice of meats served with mashed and roast potatoes, vegetables, Yorkshire pudding and gravy.
2-14 Minami Saiwai Nishiguchi Meiwa Bldg.
• Offers a Sunday dinner with Aussie Beef and New Zealand Lamb, Yorkshire pudding, mashed & roast potatoes, brussel sprouts, peas, carrots, and gravy!
Paddy Foley’s Irish Pub
ROI Bldg. B1F (five minute walk from Roppongi Station)
• Offers roast beef and roast chicken dinners as well as other pub grub throughout the week.