Weekender reviews four of Tokyo’s Thai offerings—from a sky-high expereince in Ginza, to a basement hideaway in Hiroo.
by Poppy Jackson-Jones
While the waiter informed me when I made a telephone reservation, that there wasn’t a no-smoking area at Mai-Thai, he didn’t tell me that the smoking Thai restaurant was actually a chain-smoking restaurant with apparently no ventilation and windows that appear to be glued shut.
Unfortunately instead of the aroma of their fantastic food (and it truly is fantastic), you are greeted by the overpowering stench and fog of smoke. If you can deal with it for the sake of experiencing the culinary delights ahead of you, or you yourself are a chain-smoker and want to be able to indulge without annoying people like me squirming, then Mai-Thai’s got to be your first choice for Thai food. And what a massive range of food they have! If you want to sample a variety of Thai dishes then I would recommend one of their set menus. We chose a 6-course set, at the very reasonable ¥3,150 per person, excluding drinks. We started with yam wun sen, a vermicelli salad with red onions that was not too spicy and a kind of refreshing start to a meal. Next came a selection of 3 different kinds of appetizers with 2 delicious sauces—again, not too spicy—and followed by kai lukuary (garlic fried eggs). The garlic wasn’t overpowering and the eggs appear to be boiled not fried, but were delicious all the same.
Thai green curry was next, which was very creamy, not too spicy, and really tasty. The chicken doesn’t seem to be of the best quality but the sauce itself was great. While eating the curry, my favorite Thai dish, tom yum kun, was placed in a bowl on a burner to bubble away. With the huge red chili peppers ominously poking out the top, I wondered if this dish was what they saved all the spice for. Not so. The soup was excellent, and to me, ‘excellent’ includes retaining the use of your taste buds after a meal. For dessert we had papaya ice cream, which was the only dish that disappointed—too much ice and not enough cream. Apart from the ice cream, all the dishes we had were wonderful.
Mai-Thai is a no-frills restaurant—you don’t go there for the décor or to be pampered—you go there for great Thai food. There are old Thai tourism posters roughly sellotaped to the walls throughout the place, and a unisex toilet so small that a gaijin’s knees touch the back of the door when seated. We were the only foreigners in the restaurant, which probably seats about thirty, but it is very foreigner-friendly. The menu is all in English, and the staff is easy to communicate with. It has a very bohemian feel, with lots of creative-looking young Japanese customers, and not a salaryman in sight. Highly recommended but only if you can deal with the smoke.
Subaru Building 1F, 1-18-16 Ebisu, Open 5.30–10pm daily. Tel. 03-3280-1155.
by Sheree Hsu
Bangkok Kitchen is a quaint little restaurant in Hiroo with excellent food for all Thai food fanatics. Located down close to Hiroo station on the basement floor, you can easily miss it if you don’t look out for their red and white sign.
The interior is clean and sleek. Décor and furnishings are modern without being impersonal. Floor staff are receptive and there are two rooms to separate the smoking and non-smoking areas. Service was quick on our drinks—great as it was a Friday night after a long week at work! The restaurant was lively and with a mix of Japanese and foreign people having dinner.
My fiancée and I ordered the spring rolls for an appetizer and that was quick to be tabled as well. The spring rolls were very good, prepared with fresh ingredients and in nice presentation on the plate. For a vegetable dish, we ordered the Stir-Fried Morning Glory, which was very spicy, (a bit too spicy for my fiancée) but I loved it. Next out was the phad thai, which was also excellent. Large pieces of shrimp, lots of veggies and the noodles were nicely seasoned with lots of flavoring from the peanut paste base. The beef red curry had an ample amount of meat and veggies, though it was a bit on the soupy side.
All in all, a great meal for good value (¥6,250 for the whole dinner, including two drinks), a great atmosphere and Thai food that was authentic and tasty. I highly recommend Bangkok Kitchen to anyone craving Thai and not wanting to break the bank to fly to Thailand for a great Thai meal.
Hiroo 5-2-25, Hongoku Bldg B1F. Open 11am–3:30pm, 5:30–11pm daily. Tel: 03-5448-9790.
Jim Thompson’s Table
by Marie Teather
We probably eat at a Thai restaurant around once a week and generally am of the opinion that it’s very hard to have a bad Thai meal here in Tokyo. The Thai community here have done a great job of ensuring that flavors and cooking styles remain authentic and food is prepared just as in the kitchens of Bangkok or Koh Samui. Unlike my native country England, where curries are sometimes made creamier to suit British tastes, and where eating out will see an unenthusiastic student plonk food on your table with no character or concern, here in Tokyo, Thai food is how it should be. And what’s more, it’s served with a genuine Thai smile. With this in mind, I was intrigued to see how Jim Thompson’s Table, in the newly opened Marrioner Building in Ginza, would fare. On the 10th floor overlooking the upscale and wide avenues of a designer shopping heaven, I wondered just how the spices would compete with the more delicate palette of a Ginza ‘lady who lunches’.
The sleek, hotel lobby-inspired interior, seats around 40 and is set in the corner of a modern high-rise. Two of the walls are in fact floor to ceiling windows, allowing tables to be encapsulated in natural sunlight before sunset, and creating a romantic viewing spot to see an illuminated Ginza after. The huey green and crisp white color scheme suggests nature and efficiency, and indeed once seated, the suit-clad floor staff attend your orders whilst you relax into the surroundings.
Cocktails were suggested first and a list which includes a Mango Pina Colada and a Monsoon Tonic added to the holiday feel whilst the Champagne Mojito is the perfect refreshment after a hard day of pounding the designer shopping streets below. From the extensive menu we started out with the Fresh Green Papaya Salad (¥950) and the Stir-Fired Morning Glory with Garlic Chili Sauce (¥900). I admit I expected the spices to be somewhat subdued but on the contrary my partner felt the garlic was possibly even too strong. Next we had the Fried White Fish with Herbs and Chili Sauce (¥1500)—the sure fire hit of the day. Succulent pieces of fish basted in a delicate sauce that simply melted in your mouth. We could only wish there was more on the plate. Presentation, I should add was an aesthetic delight throughout, combining the best of Thai and Japanese culinary flairs (think lotus flowers added to cocktails, delicate tempura-coated extras, and vegetables cut to resemble flowers). Now reveling in a more refined Thai experience, we opted not for our usual phad thai or green curry favorites, but instead for the Sautéed Beef with Red Curry Sauce Steak (¥1600). Tender pieces of beef cooked in spices were washed down with a Chang beer which all but completed our meal. By then the sun had set and the restaurant was filling with couples and even the odd family. Although the restaurant was full it continued to feel spacious and calm as diners experienced great Thai food, great Thai hospitality and all amidst the glittering skyline of Ginza.
Ginza Marronier Gate 10F, 2-2-14 Chuo-ku. Open 11am–11pm daily. Tel. 03-5524-1610. Jim Thompson’s Table is opening a second branch in Akasaka in March 2008. For more information see www.jimthompson.com/index.asp.
Mango Tree Cafe
by Rupert Folly
When my Japanese luncheon partner told me we were going to eat lunch in the Marunouchi Building I can’t say I felt too excited. I work in the area
Monday to Friday and at the weekends do my very best to avoid this financial and business part of town. But on the bright side, we were going to eat Thai food and that’s always a pleasure. I certainly felt much more relaxed upon entering Mango Tree Café and looking out from the 35th floor, the district below soon became part of a swish cityscape. I almost felt quite proud to work there. The restaurant itself is very stylish and up-market and staff were ever so attentive to top your glass with water. As is our weekend tradition, we had a glass of champagne (an Australian Rosemount Estate Brut Cuvee, ¥850).
This is the Mango Tree’s third restaurant worldwide, and feeling very much like any top global restaurant, you could certainly understand why it was a success in the other cosmopolitan cities of London and Bangkok. Lunchtime however is a buffet (¥2,625) which is something I do tend to have reservations about. (I prefer to think each meal has been prepared with a little more quality rather than quantity). Still, the food laid out on the buffet counter looked both appetizing and the floor staff were doing a great job of topping up the dishes. I had a little Thai green curry and some wonderful vegetables in a chili sauce. The phad thai noodles were also delicious although it soon became apparent that one thing was missing. The spices! For such a fantastic interior this was such a shame. Thai food without any spices—what will they think of next?!
Marunouchi Building 35F , 2-4-1 Marunouchi. Tel, 03-5224-5489. For more information see: www.mangotree.jp.