Food without memory is just digestion

Saturday, 4 March 2006

Izakaya Vin

4 Mar 2006

I’m often in a situation where I need to entertain a guest or two in a relatively relaxed environment. Now, Shibuya is full of places that offer entertainment but these are not really the sorts of places you want to take people. Either you stand out as the only people over 40 in the room, or you’re the youngest people there.

Time warp back four years ago, when Anthony Dowling introduced me to a quirky little izakaya in Shibuya called Izakaya Vin. Located at Dogenzaka 1-5-7, this place is well worth the journey of discovery into the back streets to find it. If you’re hopelessly lost, call 03-3496-2467 in Japanese!

When you think izakaya, the first thing that comes to mind is long, narrow counters reeking of tobacco smoke and filled with non-descript Japanese salarymen for whom the loneliness of the bar is more attractive than home. Put that out of your head!

Well, there is a long narrow counter on the Ground Floor (1 of 3) but that’s where it ends. Founded about 30 years ago, Izakaya Vin is focused on delivering a perfect environment to enjoy wine and bistro-esque food while proudly maintaining its Japanese flavor. Think sort of izakaya, sort of French bistro, sort of Tapas...and you’re beginning to get close!

With over 100 wines to choose from (unfortunately, very tightly concentrated on France) and some great small menu items, it’s not hard to spend hours here. Ironic really, because you might choose Izakaya Vin because of its proximity to the train station yet suddenly realize you’ve missed the last ride home.

I’ve rented all three floors before for a staff party, I’ve gone there with one, two and ten people, and I’ve dropped in by myself. On each occasion, the service has been outstanding and I’ve come away having learnt something new about wine.

Izakaya Vin is not haute cuisine, but it is - to coin a phrase - haute vin. Sometimes, the Master even condescends to give me my favorite Grande Dame champagne at a reasonable price (yes, reasonable is in the eye of the beholder...). But at the same time, you can sample Grand Cru’s (yesterday a Chablis and a Margaux), snack on a more-ish pork rillette or warm vege salad and get out of there under Y20,000 for two.

Definitely a keeper, with a lean towards taking good friends or business associates you’re close to. Not a place for a romantic dinner, but a great venue for conversation and learning more about one another.

Rating: Food 6/10; Wine 10/10; Service 8/10; Ambience 7/10; Price 7/10. Total: 38/50 (One of Terry’s Old Favorite)

Sweet! Sucre Sale

4 Mar 2006

At the suggestion of my harried dinner companion, I recently journeyed all the way (!) to Araki-cho in Shinjuku Ward. What a discovery! 2 or more very extensive blocks of restaurants (including the famous Pas-a-Pas), bars and pubs - I’ve already told my real estate agent I’m looking for something in that area when my lease comes up in June. There’s everything available from Vietnamese to COuntry music!

This delightful little place (seats 24 on my count) fronts a busy street [map] and sits cheek by jowl with the well-patronized Isshin Ramen and is only a few minutes walk from Yotsuya San-Chome or Akebono-bashi Stations.

Take a tip from me - regardless of some sites that don’t rate Sucre Sale, this is well worth a visit. Despite the fact that it doesn’t open until 7:00 pm, Sucre Sale offers genuinely good food at a reasonable price together with a well-considered wine list. The menu offers five different set course menus: Bouquet at 3,675 yen, Pastel at 5,200 yen, Olivier and Soleil at 6,300 yen, and the Chef’s Special Course at 7,350 yen. We both opted for Bouquet and I started with an Endive and Roquefort salad that was stunning...just stunning. My companion was feeling carnivorous, and chose a Pate de Campagne. Judging by the time he took to eat it, and the way he lingered over each bite, this was also a success.

Suitably charged, we moved onto the main courses with a bottle of excellent Chablis Vieilles Vignes Eric Dampt 2002 at a reasonable price (Y5,775). The Pagan went for some absolutely scrumptious Pork with a light mustard sauce while I had the pleasure of some Red Snapper with a Provencal feeling. I have to confess to not being a big fan of fish that’s been long out of the sea, but this time around I was sufficiently surprised to write a mental note to look at some more Madai next time out of the gate. We finished up with a selection of French cheeses, with the normal suspects all available.

If you’re lost for a place to eat between Yotsuya, Ichigaya and Shinjuku then tell your taxi driver Isshin Ramen in Araki-Cho. Then go next door to Sucre won’t be dissappointed. And if my real estate agent can get her act together Update - she did!), you might just see me there. I’ll be the fat fool in the corner, giggling...

Rating: Food 7/10; Wine 7/10; Service: 7/10; Ambience: 7/10; Price: 8/10. Overall 36/50 (3 Forks).
Nao-Bld 1F 9-7 Araki-Cyo Shinjyuku-ku, Tokyo, 160-0007; TEL:03-3351-8741 FAX:03-3351-8742Lunch: 12:00 - 14:00 (L.O. 14:00); Dinner: 19:00 - 24:30 (L.O. 24:30) - Closed on TuesdayAverage dinner cost: 5,000 to 7,000 yenCredit Card: JCB/Diners Club /VISA/Master/AMEX