March 20, 2008
Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on March 2008
Several years ago, Hapuna was all the rage. Its location in the storied Shinagawa Prince Tokyo hotel and its upscale buffet attracted the fawning attention of TV shows and OLs. But times change, fashions shift, and even all-you-can-eat crab legs eventually lose their luster. So Hapuna decided to get itself a facelift, and the recent unveiling has placed it squarely back in the limelight.
Don’t be fooled by the term “buffet”—this is one classy restaurant, and one that’s surprisingly easy on the wallet. Diners can sample more than 60 gourmet dishes, with no time limit, for just ¥5,500; throw in a ¥2,500 nomihodai option, and you and your date can skate away for less than 2 large. What’s more, design lovers will positively coo over the graceful and airy space, with high ceilings, tasteful furnishings, and a striking glassed-in wine tower. Tip: try and reserve a spot at one of the raised seating platforms that flank the central dining area, where you can gaze on all the action below.
No one will leave Hapuna hungry—or, we suspect, disappointed. Divided into sections containing Western food, Japanese food and desserts, the buffet occupies an impressive amount of real estate. When the 5:30pm dinner bell rings, diners stream in with an excited buzz that doesn’t let up until last call. Thanks to the large number of dishes on offer, the lines tend to stay short, though logjams do occur at predictable locations: the crab legs, sushi and made-to-order cutlets.
Not to worry, though, there are plenty of other delights. Appetizers include (and we’re giving the abridged version here) insalata caprese, marinated tako and a funky red-pepper mousse, all served in lovely, diminutive cocktail glasses. A salad bar with all the fixings sits near an urn of creamy pumpkin potage, while on the Japanese side there’s shabu-shabu, chawan mushi, soba, and kinpira and komatsuna salads. Terrines, meat loaf, gnocchi, roasted turkey, baked sole and a carving station occupy the Western section, and there’s even a mini-Chinatown, with the likes of spare ribs and tender deep-fried shrimp with a mayonnaise-based dressing; this last was the highlight of our meal. Kids (and kid-like adults) will love the chocolate “fountain,” in which they can dip fresh fruit.
The waitstaff at Hapuna know their role: serve drinks, clear plates and otherwise stay out of everyone’s way. Indeed, the bustle is all part of the fun, and you, too, will be in a giddy mood while enjoying this bottomless feast of Japanese and Western treats.