Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on July 2009
The abundance of izakaya in Tokyo is undoubtedly a wonderful thing, but the uniformity of their menus can become tiresome. While it’s doubtful that anybody can ever really get sick of yakitori and gyoza served with a frosted glass of beer, it’s also true that variety adds zest to life.
The En izakaya group provides just that. A mid-priced chain with 15 branches in Tokyo and Osaka, En offers good-quality, modern Japanese food at reasonable prices. However, it’s the wide-ranging menus that really set these eateries apart from the crowd. The appetizer selection, for instance, includes a dish of chilled “daiginjo” tofu made with spring water (¥580). It’s the perfect summer appetizer—tender, tasty and cool. Slightly less healthy yet equally delicious is the fried yuba
with melted cheese (¥700). In true izakaya style, both these dishes were fantastic to share—as was our favorite order of the evening, fresh cabbage with En’s original miso selection (¥900). The generous heap of red and green cabbage leaves is accompanied by six types of miso for dipping, including a black-sesame variety and another that was impressively tangy.
While the regular menu features a wide selection of dishes, there are also interesting seasonal items. For a few days in early June, En offered deep-fried freshwater smelt from Hokkaido (¥580). These salty tempura snacks were a bit underwhelming, but the deep-fried duck meatballs (¥780) were excellent: crispy yet succulent, and a good match for the tart boiled vegetables that accompanied them.
The branch of En that we visited in Ginza had no English-speaking staff, but it did provide a bilingual menu with minimal English descriptions. Anyone with allergies or other food issues—or even those who enjoyed their meal and would like to know more about it—will need to be able to ask the servers in Japanese. The drinks menu, too, has a bit of English, with mostly traditional izakaya staples like beer (¥450) and sours (¥430). There are also some less common beverages, including a sharp and refreshing yuzu-flavored sake (¥650).
The different types of nihonshu that we ordered came in variously shaped vessels, as did the food. Visually, the presentation was excellent: the dishes looked appetizing and well thought-out without being pretentious. This was also true of the restaurant as a whole. Being an izakaya at heart, En doesn’t feel too formal, yet its decor and atmosphere provide a sense of expense and quality. The profusion of dark wood and soft lighting ensure a traditional Japanese ambience, while the layout and furniture give it a more contemporary air.