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Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Szechwan Restaurant Akasaka - Subtle Plainness


Szechwan Restaurant Akasaka - one of the more elegant corners.
An elegant corner of Szechwan Restaurant Akasaka, Tokyo, Japan.

Szechwan Restaurant Akasaka has been serving Szechwan cuisine in Tokyo since 1970, and is famous as being the first restaurant to introduce Szechwan cuisine to Japan. The current owner, Chen Kenichi - son of the founder - is also famous as the "Iron Chef Chinese" on the Iron Chef TV series.

Kenichi's son, Kentaro, runs another of the several Szechwan Restaurants in Tokyo: the Szechwan Restaurant Chen, in Shibuya.

Thick saucy meatballs on rice at Szechwan Restaurant Akasaka.

A group of us went to Szechwan Restaurant Akasaka last Sunday for dinner, and we chose it because one of us is a vegetarian, and Szechwan Restaurant, with its extensive choice of tofu-based dishes, has a reputation for particularly vegetarian friendly Chinese food.

 Szechwan Restaurant Akasaka is, properly speaking, in Hirakawacho, not Akasaka, which is across Aoyama-dori (Route 246). Hirakawacho is much more a business district than it is residential, so Sunday evening was somewhat empty. Like most restaurants in this part of Tokyo, it no doubt relies more on lunch than dinner.

Eggplant and long bean dishes, Szechwan Restaurant Akasaka, Tokyo.
The delicious start to our meal at Szechwan Restaurant Akasaka, Tokyo.

Szechwan Restaurant is on the 5th and 6th floor, with a somewhat elegant entrance, albeit in that heavy, wooden Chinese style, but relieved by being bright and spacious. Inside the restaurant is quite plain, with just a few big paintings and pieces of calligraphy on the walls as decoration. For friends, the atmosphere is great: unpretentious and friendly, but the lack of sophistication in the decor might not make it the ideal spot for that someone special.

Plain and simple decor at Szechwan Restaurant Akasaka, Tokyo.
Plain and simple interior, Szechwan Restaurant Akasaka, Tokyo.

This lack of pretension extends to the food which could also be described as quite plain, but the kind of plainness you know would be fiendishly difficult to reproduce yourself. The accent is on the innate flavors of the ingredients.

There are course meals (about 20,000 yen with a minimum order of two people), but we went for a la carte, served in a pot from which everyone helped themselves, or which we got a waiter to dish out for us.

Soup dish at Szechwan Restaurant Akasaka, Tokyo.

First up was eggplant in pickled chili pepper sauce, stewed to tenderness without any mushiness, together with sliced onion, and served with a slice of lemon. The browned string beans with ground pork were still quite firm and with some crunch, and accompanied by a very crunchy deep-fried rice cracker.

The two most memorable dishes for me were the chicken wings, which were stewed to a really nice tenderness and which, like everything else, were not over-seasoned. The other, the spicy tofu dish, was memorable for being incredibly spicy - too much for my liking, it actually made me cough and sneeze (and I'm basically a big fan of spicy, as in Indian food!)

Super spiciness in the form of tofu at at Szechwan Restaurant Akasaka, Tokyo.
Tofu, the spiciest dish of the evening at Szechwan Restaurant Akasaka, Tokyo.

Some of us had the mango shaved ice for dessert, others the rice cake with coconut.

One other flavor that will stick in my mind - along with that chicken - is the pu-erh tea served at Szechwan Restaurant Akasaka. It was superb: the perfect balance between a no-nonsense cuppa and exotically fragranced tea. It was so good I asked if I could buy a jar, which they graciously let me do.

A shaved ice mango dessert at Szechwan Restaurant Akasaka, Tokyo.
Mango and shaved ice at Szechwan Restaurant Akasaka, Tokyo - with that delicious pu-erh tea.
Conclusion: if you're vegetarian and want to eat good Chinese food, Szechwan Restaurant Akasaka is a good place to go. The food is not haute cuisine in looks or flavor, but tends more to the homely, so if you're looking for "glamor" in terms of presentation and atmosphere, this might not be the place for you. However, if you're looking for very well cooked, elegant, authentic Szechwan food and friendly, attentive service, Szechwan Restaurant Akasaka gets top marks.

Lunch at Szechwan Restaurant Akasaka starts at about 3,000 or 4,000 yen per head, with dinner starting at about 5,000 or 6,000 yen.

Hours: 11.30am-3pm (last order 2pm), 5pm-10pm (last order 9pm), open every day except at Year End/New Year.

5F, 6F, Zenkoku Ryokan Kaikan, 2-5-5 Hirakawacho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 102-0093
Tel. 03-3263-9371

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