Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on September 2009

photos Courtesy of Food Stadium

photos Courtesy of Food Stadium

Like many shitamachi neighborhoods, Jimbocho is cramped, busy, difficult to navigate—and full of hidden surprises. Tetsubirobi is one such unexpected find. In an area packed with garden-variety ramen shops and gyudon restaurants, this eatery stands out for its originality.

Tetsubirobi is located in the basement of a nondescript building, and as customers make their way down the stairs, it begins to look as if it’s been carved into a cliff. Rough, uneven rock covers the floor and walls, and after turning a corner, you’re met with your own reflection—actually, a lazy automatic door that takes a moment to ease itself open. Inside, the furnishings and accoutrements change constantly. We passed a room decorated with illuminated sakura patterns and a private seating area lit by wall-mounted fiber optics. Our spot was at a long, curved wooden table in a room whose glowing walls were dotted with maple leaves.

As is usual for an izakaya, the waitstaff were on us in a flash. Tetsubirobi has an extensive shochu and nihonshu menu, plus the usual beers (¥550) and sours (¥450-¥600). The staff told us that teppanyaki is a specialty of the house, so we ordered the daily sirloin special (¥2,400), which—while being a little pricey and slow to arrive—was perfectly cooked, excellently presented and, above all, absolutely delicious. To balance the beef, we chose a simple green salad (¥600) and a refreshing pork salad which plum sauce (¥600).
Having washed down our meat and greens with some beer, it was time for a stronger drink. Tetsubirobi’s shochu menu is incredible—spanning almost half the entire drink menu—and would probably make very interesting reading if it wasn’t quite so kanji-heavy. Nevertheless, ordering is simple thanks to the staff’s eagerness to help. We ended up with the fiery Gyokuro imo jochu (¥500), which was strong and tasty and went well with the next dish: grilled zucchini with anchovy dip (¥500). The zucchini was hot and juicy, and suited the saltiness of the anchovies well.

While Tetsubirobi is at heart an izakaya, it has a definite offbeat charm. The menu is full of staples like garlic bread (¥250), but also gems like “fire-roasted” onion (¥400), which lives up to its name by actually being served while still aflame, just to keep the customers on their toes.

Another surprise awaits in Tetsubirobi’s toilet. Located behind a false wall lined with bookshelves, the washroom’s mirrored interior makes exiting a bit of a struggle after that extra shochu. Nevertheless, the confusing washroom is amusing—and an apt reminder of this atypical izakaya in a run-of-the-mill neighborhood.