Similar to my other recent musings on food (the mighty egg sando, hot dogs and kebabs), my very subjective meditations about the best Indian restaurants can be found below. The Japan Times and other publications have written a lot about the best curries and Indian treats to be had in the Japanese capital, so this, as you’ll quickly find out, is more or less just a personal ride through the many years my trusted pal Tall Paul and I have been on the lookout for proper Indian food and not your usual discount ¥500 curry and refill naan joints which can be found everywhere.
We quickly found a way of separating the wheat from the chaff or the naan from the bhatura. If the restaurant doesn’t offer basmati rice or sell a variety of Indian breads such as roti or chapati, it’s pretty much not worth opening the door. So, in no particular order…
Andhra Kitchen and Andhra Dining
I’m cheating here as Andhra Kitchen and Andhra Dining are two distinct restaurants operated by the same company. Andhra Kitchen, situated in Okachimachi, and its more upscale sister eatery Andhra Dining Ginza have been ahead of the Indian food game here in Tokyo for years now. The former is a more cost-effective and cozy operation which is renowned for its thali set meals which come with rice, curries, sambar, rasam and a whole range of other goodies. These sets come in meat and vegetarian varieties, both of which are culinary winners in every way. The last time we visited, we opted for the à la carte menu and ordered chicken Chettinad, saag chicken, chicken tikka, seekh kebab, masala papad, a healthy mountain of basmati rice and some fresh chapati. We’re gluttons, pure and simple. But this was a real tour de force.
Andhra Dining Ginza (another Andhra Dining has recently opened in Shibuya) is a much fancier affair. It’s in Ginza after all. More expensive and with a more elegant atmosphere and clientele, it’s more suited for dates or special occasions. The food, as with its sister restaurants, is outstanding and runs the gambit of all your favorite Indian meals.
When I find myself in Shinjuku, not that often nowadays to be fair, I always, and I mean always, head up to Masala Dining. The last time I visited was with the Sake Nomad herself, and we had a very jolly and reasonably priced curry lunch. When we (the two Pauls) venture to Masala Dining, which has become something of a Shinjuku institution, we usually go all out and order as much as we can from the à la carte menu. We can’t help it really. We’re middle-aged men with an insatiable desire for curry. The seekh kebabs are truly wondrous, the lamb masala is a thing of beauty and the biryani topped with rays of sunshine in the form of chopped boiled eggs is the reason why I opted against my orthodox Christmas dinner last year and went to Masala Dining instead. I’ll take a biryani, kebabs and a few Kingfisher beers over dry turkey any day of the week. Haters may hate.
I used to frequent Ahilya‘s very pleasant Meguro branch, which was located next door to the equally pleasant Meguro Tavern. The pub has sadly gone now, to be replaced with a dark and dingy “darts bar” which gives me unwelcome flashbacks to Roppongi in the early noughties for some reason. No problem, however, as in addition to the Meguro joint, Ahilya has a very nice location in Aoyama (and some other spots including Yoyogi and Osaki). When I hear the words bhindi masala made sumptuously with okra, I go weak at the knees. And I have the good folk at Ahilya to thank for that.
If anyone tells you that Priya, in Hiroo, is excellent or, God forbid, the best in Tokyo — I usually come out in a slight rash. It’s a telltale sign that they haven’t been anywhere else and probably find their info on dreadful Facebook expat forums. As it happens, one night, we found ourselves between Hiroo and Nishiazabu loitering outside a conbini with the ubiquitous chu-hi and beer combo bemoaning the state of the world and talking football — Celtic for me and Arsenal for Paul. After stumbling about aimlessly, we came across the truly brilliant Vinaya Nishiazabu, which seems to be a genuine find and fairly off the radar, perhaps due to its location between two stations. To be honest, I don’t remember what we had to eat that night, but we still talk about being blown away by the quality of the food. It’s time for a return trip, as soon as I finish writing this lyrical ode to curry for you.
Perhaps Tokyo’s largest Indian restaurant chain, Mumbai (with 17 spaces to date), is particularly reliable and is justifiably proud of leading the way in terms of showcasing genuine Indian cuisine in the Kanto region. I recently met with Popi Kuroda, who serves as the hugely successful restaurant chain’s CEO. We sat down for lunch at Mumbai’s Yotusya branch, which was, unsurprisingly, packed. Mumbai’s second restaurant, it has recently been renovated and reflects the aesthetics of Rajasthan, a state in Northern India. Beautiful hues of blue and a stunning menu from which the biryani, which comes served in original ceramic ware, is the real star of the show. Popi added a splash of raita on to the biryani and the creamy yoghurt texture elevated the dish to new levels. Mumbai’s biryani is renowned and Tall Paul mentioned similar culinary goodness when he visited the company’s Kudan and Marunouchi branches.
Popi, as she is known, is a delightful dining companion. We talked about Indian food in Japan and the diverse and growing Indian diaspora in areas such as Okachimachi, Setagaya, Kasai and even as far away as Kofu. She mentioned Mumbai’s desire to elevate the reputation of Indian cuisine in Tokyo and suggested her restaurants as venues for special occasions, something which Japanese patrons don’t usually seem to consider. Mumbai is a real gem in Tokyo and can be considered as a real leader in terms of informing and improving the prestige of Indian cuisine in this country.
One of Tall Paul’s favorites, this southern Indian institution has branches that can be found in and around Tokyo in locations including Kamiyacho, Ginza and Kawagoe. Nirvanam‘s lunchtime buffet is talked about with absolute reverence and can be quite a hectic affair as you push your way through the throngs for one last piece of chicken tikka.
Halima Kebab Biryani
The food at this Ueno-based eatery can be very good indeed — the kebabs are outrageously tasty. The service, on the other hand, is often sadly lacking.
The usually packed Dhaba is always included in lists of the best Indian food in Tokyo and for good reason. A recipient of a Michelin Bib Gourmand, this southern Indian eatery is renowned for its outrageously good dosa. Tall Paul also suggests nearby Dakshin for more Indian culinary goodness.