Pan-Asian fare gets a funky twist in suburban Kamimachi


Originally published on on January 2010

Photos by Keigo Moriyama

Photos by Keigo Moriyama

Authenticity isn’t everything. Sure, genuine Vietnamese food is delicious, but Saigon in sleepy Kamimachi proves that inauthentic cuisine can be just as tasty as the real thing.

Set in an unspectacular suburb not far from the Setagaya Ward office and adjacent to the Toytown-esque Setagaya Line, Saigon is a funky boho restaurant whose menu panders strongly to the Japanese palate. But that doesn’t make it any less unique. The earthy, ethnic shack is decorated with paper lanterns, wooden statues and imitation coconut trees, its grossly misshapen tables and chairs hewn from tree trunks. The clientele is lively and eclectic, dotted with the occasional art-house celebrity, and the young and attentive staff can be summoned by tinkling a dinky wee bell on each table, placed alongside the metal chopsticks and spoons.

Saigon is famed for its curry, listed on a separate menu that includes potato (¥800), Hanoi (¥880; complete with a halved boiled egg) and butter (¥840) varieties. This last boasted a thick and creamy coriander-tinged sauce and tender chunks of chicken; you can choose the chilli level yourself. The curry menu also lists a wide selection of naan breads: The comically elongated, crispy garlic naan (¥450) was topped with tons of pungent chopped garlic, and other unusual varieties include basil, goma and onion and cheese naan.

The Saigon salad (¥630 for small and ¥1,050 for large; the small size is massive), tossed in a soy-based dressing, went well with the complementary dish of bean sprouts and sesame seeds. Before long the tom yum kung (¥980) arrived. Carrying a subtler tang than you might associate with this Thai soup, it has a miso broth base, and a generous helping of tofu and vegetables made up for the miserly two and a half prawns. Buried under a bed of crunchy cucumber, onion and scallion, the sappari pirikara karaage (“refreshing spicy deep-fried chicken,” ¥780) was tender inside and crispy out, with a full and floury batter and a sweet sauce, though not as fiery as its name suggests.


Saigon’s drinks menu is just as idiosyncratic as the food. Both the mango lassi (¥530) and mango beer (¥600) were sweet and smooth; other fruity concoctions include a range of lychee, Passoa or mango-based cocktails (all ¥550). As you’d guess from the stacks of bottles that line the walls, there is an extensive shochu menu (from ¥530), as well as Vietnamese Nep Moi rice liquor and a selection of Asian bottled beers at ¥600.

Don’t forget dessert! The house recommendation is hot banana age mochi (¥510), a version of banana fritters in a thin, sticky toffee sauce, and who are we to argue? Add coconut ice cream for ¥100 to make a perfect palate-cleanser. It just goes to show—we’ll take delicious over authentic any day.