Nestled just below street level less than a block away from Shinsen Station is Kashiwa Bistro Ban Ban, a lively, welcoming location with a few terrace seats and a minimal, sparsely-lit, dark wood interior. The shop’s recommended dishes include Kashiwa chicken — their house dish, served with a secret sauce — and a risotto curry dish that is also on the menu of Ban Ban’s sister shop, Curry Risotto Standard, located in the Shibuya Station area. The majority of the items on the menu are intended for pairing with wine, of which 22 bottle options and 8 glass options (¥500–¥800) are available.
Staff are quick, friendly and accommodating. The menu consists of a couple of pages of drink options, including an intriguing passion fruit highball. These options have expanded to include a modest selection of craft beers on tap, in addition to standard cocktails and the aforementioned wine list. The food menu is marked with stars to indicate items of particular popularity. On the back of the menu is a handwritten list of current specials on offer which changes according to season.
Diners first receive a simple shirasu (whitebait) salad as an appetizer (Note: a ¥300 table charge applies). This dish may surprise even the staunchest of seafood opposers; despite the seemingly overwhelming amount of whitebait topping a modest bunch of lettuce, the salad is fresh and well-balanced, with a simple dressing that almost entirely negates any ocean flavors.
The appetizer menu includes an entire cucumber pickled in ponzu (¥380); pieces are thickly cut and topped with a sprinkling of parsley. The cucumber has a gentle sweetness on the front that gives way to a nice, almost savory tang at the finish. The thick cut makes the pieces satisfying to eat.
A starred item on the menu is the shop’s original potato salad (¥480). It’s chunky and piled high with pickled vegetables that have an amazing crunch — these are coated in a gently spiced but creamy sauce that has hints of turmeric. The chunky-creaminess of the potato against the crisp texture of the vegetables and the sauce creates a rather decadent appetizer.
A seasonal fritter is available (¥780); at the time of this review, the offering was an ear of corn cut into pieces and fried. The corn was sweet and nicely cooked, and it paired excellently with the mild salsa served on the side. The center of the cob was not removed before frying, which resulted in an odd textural experience. The pleasant pop of the sweet kernels against the light crunch of the fried exterior was a sharp contrast to the relative toughness of the core section.
The recommended dish, Kashiwa yaki (¥880), is a chicken dish served on a hot pan that is offered three different ways: with tare (a house recipe dipping sauce), salt or avocado. The tare option presents sizzling skin-on chicken pieces with a pleasant springiness. The lightly-thickened sauce has sesame seeds and strong soy sauce flavors with a touch of spicy heat in addition to a gentle, almost brown sugary sweetness.
The most outstanding dish we sampled was the risotto curry (¥880) from Ban Ban’s sister shop. It’s a Michelin Guidebook dish that is a tomato-based curry served with parsley-topped risotto. The risotto presents a pleasant texture with the sweet, spicy flavors of the curry, which contains tender pieces of chicken. Both parts of the dish are delicious on their own, but the combination of the two creates outstanding depth of flavor and a rich, decadent experience (further enhanced with a glass of red wine). This is accomplished without creating a dish that feels heavy. The tomato-based curry means there is an initial tart sweetness, but the spices in the curry linger along with the cream of the risotto, resulting in a lovely combination that ought to be enjoyed slowly.
The modest dessert menu includes a wonderfully smooth and barely-held-together panna cotta (¥480). It is mild and creamy, with a slight lime aftertaste. Dip it in the red berry coulis for a little extra sweetness. Milky and indulgent, it’s a great finish to the meal (make sure to use the mint sprig for your last bite).
With delicious food priced reasonably, attentive staff, and an open kitchen for the curious, Kashiwa Bistro Ban Ban presents a great option for small groups of friends and casual dates, though it’s perhaps a little noisy for intimate occasions. The restaurant almost always seems to be full of customers, so reservations are recommended, but keep in mind there’s a two-hour time limit for your stay.
Takeaways: Don’t miss the risotto curry. Try the potato salad for a refreshing take on a familiar dish.