Worried there’ll be tantrums at teatime? Kit Nagamura pulls up a chair at the most child-friendly restaurants in town
NOW THAT MY 8 year old is table-trained, I can go out with him anywhere, anytime. He knows what to do with cloth napkins and how to handle water in a glass goblet (glad one of us does). But things were not always so civilized. If your child is still in the “launch-a-lunch” stage, you’ll both probably feel more comfortable patronizing chain restaurants, where patience, plastic, and simplified menus are par for the course. Some that come to mind (and provide non-smoking sections of varying efficiency) are TGIF, Outback Steak House, Denny’s, Royal Host, and Saizeriya. Other options, with take-out-ability, include Soup Stock Tokyo branches and the Subway sandwich shops which cater to veggie lovers and people who prefer to pick and choose ingredients (and it’s not just kids, is it?)
Perhaps you and junior would like to expand your culinary repertoire a little? The Global Dining empire is a step up in sophistication yet remains immensely child-friendly. Two branches of its popular chains are situated in Azabu Juban, a short walk from Roppongi Hills. Monsoon Cafe features a charming outdoor patio with views of Tokyo Tower, and serves mildly spicy Thai-inspired food. La Boheme offers an Italian-Japanese fusion menu, and, like Monsoon Café, an atmosphere boisterous enough to drown out junior outbursts, as well as gracious staff.
Local cuisine is a must-try, but chances are you’ll run into one of the following obstacles: smoke-filled rooms, tatami, or a menu in calligraphy. It’s still worth the effort. Stagger your hours a bit to avoid the choking rush hours, take a Japanese friend to help and pretend you’re in yoga class. Soba, tempura and yakitori are the most benign for beginners, but if your little one is ready for sushi, a nice place to start (if you can get in) is Umai Sushikan, one minute from Asakasa Station. Seats at the hinoki wood counter are nonsmoking, and the entertaining staff slaps the freshest fish bits in front of you with all the showmanship you’ve heard about. You’ll find lots of fishless side dishes as well.
And then, there’s Fine Dining (capital F, capital D). There are tablecloths, incendiary devices (candles), utensils resembling ninja weapons, and a hushed volume to negotiate. But there are restaurants where the staff probably won’t freak out if you bring your young ones. These establishments somehow bear in mind that accidents will happen, that not every child knows what to do with escargot pinchers, and that all the world’s gourmets were, in fact, children once.
Natural Harmony (across from Moon Star on Gaien Nishi Dori) offers upscale organic fare with brown rice, beautifully prepared vegetarian dishes as well as a roast chicken well worth the wait. Lunches are casual, but dinnertime brings out the candles, lovers — and family offspring. La Palette is a tiny, chef-owned establishment right across the street from La Boheme in Azabu Juban, but worlds away in atmosphere. Quiet French tunes, cloth napkins, proper place settings, a fine wine list, and reasonable, but delicious courses are the draw. Chef Kiyoshi Kogure left the Tokyo American Club to hang out his own shingle, and he treats all guests — even my son and his friends — with respect. We have actually survived a “meltdown” there, but Chef Kogure took it in stride, and we quickly took it outside for negotiation. The lure of good food is a compelling reason to reach a settlement, I discovered.
Other personal favorites straddle the line between formal and fun. Roy’s Aoyama Bar and Grill (pictured above, five minutes from Gaien mae Station) is a great place to ramp up on manners, and challenge youngsters to expand on their notion that “dinner out” means hamburgers (though I think they have those, too). Fujimama’s, in Omotesando (behind Lacoste), has long delighted parents and their young with a flexible attitude toward dining, and any of the Samrat branches around town will gently introduce your child to Indian cuisine. Another curry spot, with exceptional Indian food and an immensely kind attitude toward children is Devi Fusion. This one is a winner, and they’ve now got four branch restaurants to prove it. The first floor of the Roppongi location is entirely non-smoking, the waiters anticipate your every need, and the “fusion” in the restaurant’s name obviously refers to a dynamic mix of cultures, clientele, and generations. See you there!
MONSOON CAFÉ FESTA
Azabu Bldg. 6F, 1-7-5 Azabu Juban, tel. 03-5775-6900,
Green Court 2-3-7 Azabu Juban, tel. 03-6400-3060,
3-13-10 Akasaka B1, tel. 03-3560-6711
Pazuru Aoyama 3-38-12 Jingumae, tel. 03-3405-8393
B1, 2-13-2 Azabu Juban, tel. 03-3452-0600
ROY’S AOYAMA BAR AND GRILL
Libiera Minami-Aoyama Bldg. 1F, 3-3-3 Minami-Aoyama,
6-3-2 Jingumae, tel. 03-5485-2283
3-3-15 Roppongi, tel. 03-5570-4335