Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on February 2010

Photo by Keigo Moriyama

Every neighborhood has a few hotspots—even one as uninspiring as Yoyogi-Uehara.  In this pricy Shibuya suburb, locals and in-the-know types flock to Fireking Café, which with its large framed windows immediately stands out as the biggest kid on the block.  But is it the best?

We came expecting a cozy café; instead, we found ourselves standing in a spacious, candlelit room, with contemporary black-and-white furniture and artsy photography on the off-white walls.  The bar counter has a ’50s American feel to it, but a quick glance at the menu revealed that thematic coherence wasn’t on the agenda here: all of the food at Fireking, apart from the desserts, is Southeast Asian.  Perhaps we should’ve taken the two palm trees in the corner as a hint.

The “café” label is usually shorthand for small portion sizes, and we kept our expectations correspondingly low.  Buzzing from a glass of champagne (¥1,680) on an empty stomach, we waited for our first order to arrive.  The shrimp and avocado salad (¥1,050) looked great, and if its quantity didn’t come as much of a surprise, it more than made up for it in quality.  However, the stewed coconut cream soup (¥1,260) was a lot heartier—essentially Thai yellow curry minus the rice, it came served in a bowl that was considerably deeper than it looked. After several ladlefuls each of this rich, creamy and mildly spiced treat, we could have quite happily skipped to dessert.

But no: expecting meager portions, we’d miscalculated in our order, and still had a few more dishes to come. The mi goreng, Indonesian fried noodles (¥945), arrived piping hot, with a healthy dose of vegetables and shrimp. We had more mixed feelings about the next dish, nasi goreng (¥945).  On the upside, the subtle flavors indicated that the ingredients used were of fine quality; on the downside, it was about as authentically Southeast Asian as a trip to Saitama.

If we’d ended our meal there, we would have given Fireking a seven out of ten. But then the desserts arrived: apple crumble pie and pumpkin cheesecake, both served with an extra-light whipped cream (both ¥630). These were the real deal: the apple pie was dense and well-balanced, while the cheesecake was light and only subtly sweetened—perfect if you want to indulge in an all-American dessert without worrying about your cholesterol level. They were also a bargain compared to the accompanying drinks, with drip coffee and teas starting at ¥735. Ouch.

The strength of the desserts confirmed our initial suspicions: Fireking Café is indeed a café, albeit one that also serves decent beginners’ Indonesian food. If you’re ever in the neighborhood, or use the Odakyu line, it’s worth stopping by just for the cake and pie.