Uchouten @ Minami Ikebukuro, Tokyo
We flew in on a red-eye flight and arrived at Narita and managed to check in rather early in the morning at our apartment at Ikebukuro on our recent trip to Tokyo last month, and thought we could swing by Mutekiya for a quick ramen fix before getting on with our itinerary planned for the day. Despite being an hour early to the usual lunch peak hour, the queue outside the famed ramen shop just a stone’s throw away from Seibu Ikebukuro had already developed with more than 20 diners, mostly visitors to the metropolitan like us waiting to be ushered into the shop. Not wanting to waste time since we’d already had Mutekiya on several occasions and blogged about it before, we decided to look into the other recommendations I’d jotted on our dining list and this was when Uchouten came to mind. It is a 洋食屋 which we had wanted to visit since our last trip back to Tokyo and it seems like the perfect opportunity to do so now..
Uchouten is a small eatery located on the ground level of SoHo Minami Ikebukuro (南池袋) facing the newly built and beautiful Toshima City Hall, specialising in western cuisine. It is a short walk from Higashi Ikebukuro station on the Metro Yurakucho Line though we usually venture from JR Ikebukuro station which is slightly further away to this area in the direction of Otsuka. The district which Uchouten is nested in is very typically Japanese residential, i.e. low level apartments with some commercial activity, usually small delis and restaurants or laundromats on the first floor. A whole lot quieter neighbourhood against the bustling and busy areas directly outside the JR station.
The interior was simple and looked slightly rundown actually . The flooring just next to the table we were directed had caved in a bit and was haphazardly patched up with a thickened layer of cardboard reinforced by duct tape. This seemed like a common sight of some other small delis or family restaurants we had eaten in before, where it is the food and not the decor which was out to impress.
We ordered two hamburger sets from their lunch menu. Despite serving yoshoku i.e. western cuisine, the mains almost always come with rice and miso soup on the side. Very typical of yoshokuyas in Japan.
The hamburger patties here at Uchouten are made using 黑毛和牛, wagyu beef from cows which have a characteristic black fur coat, i.e. kuroge wagyu likening the much coveted ones from Kobe and Matsusaka. It was unbelievably juicy and incredibly rich in flavour. Every bite was perpetually oozing with meat juices. The texture was also perfectly balanced, so soft and succulent yet at the same time sufficiently firm to render a good bite. The demi-glace had good consistency, not too viscous so that it just clads so ever thinly over the beautifully browned patties, lending the sweetness of caramelised onions as well some residual aromas and slight acridity of red wine to boost the meaty flavours. This is easily the best “hambagas” we have had in all our trips. Truly stunning…
The croquette that came with one of the sets we ordered was also amazing… same level of juiciness and sweetness in the minced meat within as with the hamburgers, so full of flavour while the exterior panko coating was uber crisp without any hint of cloying oiliness. Much much better than those produced from the central kitchens of other famous restaurants and sold at departmental store depachikas which I shall not name…
The food at Uchouten was thoroughly enjoyable, despite being a small eatery tucked in a quiet and relatively non-descript district in Tokyo. We loved the fact that we were the only gaijins that day when we visited while the other diners seemed like workers and salarymen from offices in the region or local residents living nearby. The deli did not seem accustomed to receive foreigners here as well, without an English menu and the staff spoke virtually no English at all. It would certainly help to be able to understand and speak a bit of Japanese. Nonetheless, we would definitely come again to try their rosu katsus which boasts to use Hayashi SPF pork loin, as well as some dishes which are only available on their dinner menu, like omuraisu, another of their signatures as being reported by numerous Japanese press and publications seen through the newspaper and magazine cuttings plastered on their weathered walls. Truly glad to be able to discover this little gem located so near our apartment in Ikebukuro.
SOHO 南池袋 2-36-10 Minamiikebukuro Toshima Tokyo
東京都 豊島区 南池袋 2-36-10 SoHo103 (nearest train station – about 6-8 min walk from Metro Higashi Ikebukuro)