Thursday, June 9, 2016

50 Hours in Tokyo: Old School Beef Restaurant

My previous experience with the legendary Asakusa Imahan restaurant has been limited to the gyu-don bento box sold at consignment stalls inside department stores or some of those ready-made sauces on supermarket shelves bearing their name. But this time, as I was finishing up shopping at Kappabashi just a block away from their original restaurant, I decided to drop by for lunch.

The restaurant was full when I arrived slightly after noon on Saturday. Judging by the language spoken I would say half of the customers were tourists at this popular restaurant for visitors - I bet it's on every single guidebook covering this area within close proximity to the landmark Sensoji. Luckily the line wasn't too long and 20 minutes later after waiting at the lobby, I was led to a table on the ground floor.

Asakusa Imahan was known for their beef dishes and has been around for over 100 years. For lunch the restaurant ran a much simplified menu compared to their kaiseki dinner offerings, ranging from the limited edition classic beef rice bowl (gyu-don), to the sukiyaki or shabu-shabu set, completed with appetizer, beef prepared at the table, rice and pickles.

I picked the sukiyaki set and soon, the lady dressed in kimono came back with my small plates of appetizer bites, the beef and the vegetables, and began to set up the table for sukiyaki by putting the griddle on top of the stove and start the fire. Then she began to pour the sauce to the griddle and showed me how to cook the beef for the first batch. Then I was on my own, with the help of a brief instruction written in English that she left me with.

The set came with generous portion of 4 big slices of beef, with wheat gluten, chrysanthemum leaves (known as shungiku in Japanese), scallions, tofu, onions, cabbage, shiitake mushroom and jelly noodles. We had our fair share of wagyu beef just the week before in Kyushu in almost every way of cooking as you could imagine, and I would say the beef served at Imahan fell right in the middle of the pack compared to what we had then. There's good beef flavor but the fat wasn't as marbled as some we tried then, but overall the meat texture was good and with the help of the sauce and the raw egg (as the dipping sauce) the meat was delicious.

Some people may dismiss this as another touristy place that has "lost" its charm, especially with flocks of visitors from certainly neighboring country swarming the place these days. I was lucky that there weren't too many of those on the day I was there, so the place was more charming than I thought, with wonderful service by the staff. The food wasn't mind-blowing but definitely more than decent. I wouldn't make a big detour just for this, but I will certainly come back next time when I was in this neighborhood.

More pictures on my Flickr album: https://www.flickr.com/photos/g4gary/albums/72157667959352232

Check out the rest of the travelogue series: 50 Hours in Tokyo!

Where? Asakusa Imahan, 3-1-12 Nishi-Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo, Japan
浅草今半国際通り本店 東京都台東区西浅草3-1-12
Menu Highlights? Beef Sukiyaki

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