Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on August 2009
Yozakura Bijin is a beautifully designed izakaya that’s located in an easy-to-find spot just across the street from Ikebukuro station. Immediately after getting off the elevator, customers find themselves in a gorgeous lobby, with huge prints of geisha and kabuki actors, and a tremendous faux cherry tree that’s surrounded by paper umbrellas, fans and lanterns. The decor is meant to call to mind an Edo-era red-light district, and while this pseudo-traditional flair may come across as too theme-parky for some, we felt it showed real elegance and a comfortably modern touch.
We made reservations for a Sunday evening, but when we showed up there were plenty of seats available. The staff led us to a semi-private room with gilded kimono cloth and traditional wooden combs mounted on the wall. After our red robe-clad server presented us with a tabletop buzzer for ordering, we began to peruse the food and drink menus. Both were substantial. All the expected drinks are available—beer (¥580), wine (¥650), sake and shochu (¥550). Cocktail lovers are well taken care of, with standard concoctions like chu-hai and sours (¥500) and some more interesting choices like a “pink rose sour” and sparkling cocktails for ¥800.
The food menu features lots of popular izakaya fare, including sushi and sashimi (from ¥100), sumibiyaki (from ¥180), fried dishes (from ¥380) and shabu shabu (¥1,480), as well as more adventurous choices like pork and kimchi chan chan yaki, a kind of hodgepodge of meat and vegetables (¥880). Our waitress was very attentive, though we were a tad perplexed when told there were no course menus available that night. Alas, we busied ourselves with á la carte ordering.
First up was some beautifully presented salmon, tuna, and whitefish sashimi, which tasted fresh but slightly chewy, and then a pot of spicy and flavorful chan chan yaki. This was followed by a tempura platter of fish, eggplant and peppers (¥870)—crispy and delicate, if a bit oily. The real knockout dish was the grilled marbled Japanese beef, which, though on the expensive side (¥2,280), was deliciously juicy. All in all, the food and drink left us full and content. We weren’t dazzled, but like all good comfort food, it was pleasantly familiar, tried and true.
At the end of the night, we had to ring our buzzer three times before the waitress appeared and, somewhat oddly for an izakaya, we weren’t allowed to split our check at the register. The service left us with a bad taste in our mouths, even though the evening had started out fine.
Those with big appetites, strapped wallets, and a hankering for a funky and sophisticated atmosphere will definitely want to check out Yozakura Bijin. Unless you’re too blinded by the lush environs to keep your expectations in check, you won’t be disappointed.