Low-cost eats in a high-end neighborhood


Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on July 2010

Photos by Keigo Moriyama

Xian is one of those rare Ginza-area restaurants where the food reels you in but the meal doesn’t send you to the poor house. Located along the Yamanote line tracks near Yurakucho station, this congenial spot has certainly cast its spell over us.

The decor is what you’d expect from a ramen shop or local Chinese joint: paper lanterns, murals of rustic scenery and large kanji painted on the walls. What really stands out, though, is the open kitchen, where chefs make the house specialty, toshomen noodles. We sat transfixed by the symphony of cutting, shaping, boiling and flour-dusting, while sipping Chinese beer (¥650) and cocktails made with Chinese shochu (¥520).

We were tempted by the course menus, which start at ¥3,000, but decided our appetites weren’t quite up to the task—the portions here are impressive by Tokyo standards. So we went à la carte, starting with the sizable dumplings menu. The standard gyoza (¥520), served on a sizzling iron plate, have just the right balance of garlic and pork, chewy with crispy edges and not overly oily. The soup-filled xiaolongbao (¥600) are heavenly.

We followed these with a variety of standard Chinese dishes found on a lot of menus in Tokyo. First up was the black-vinegar sweet-and-sour pork (¥1,180), thin and crispy bits of meat surrounded by pineapple and peppers with a sauce so tangy you’ll want to lick the plate. Another winner was the mapo eggplant (¥1,180)—perfectly salted and seasoned. Less impressive was the fried rice (¥1,080), which wasn’t terrible but didn’t match the other dazzling fare on offer.

The toshomen noodles, a specialty of the region in China that gives Xian its name, are the crescendo of any meal here—flat, thick and slightly chewy, they’re more akin to Yamanashi’s hotou than to ramen. They’re perfectly accentuated by the piping-hot broth and a variety of toppings. We chose the very spicy house version (¥850), topped with minced beef, green beans and sprouts, and a milder broth crowned with pork spare ribs (¥1,050). Put on your bib and go to town—you’ll barely want to come up for air.

The service at Xian can be hit or miss—in other words, not all that different to what you’d experience in China. But the abundance of Chinese customers speaks volumes about the quality and authenticity of the cuisine. And the food is the real reason to come to Xian: fresh, hearty and superior quality for the price.