It was our first night in Japan and I was in charge of choosing a restaurant for the four of us. The first one I read from the guidebook was “Little Okinawa”:http://www.little-okinawa.co.jp/docs/index.htm, which everyone immediately liked the sound of: ‘Southern island cuisine includes Okinawa-style pork and noodle dishes, perfect with awamori, a fiery, rice-based spirit’.
As it wasn’t far from our hotel, we decided to check it out on our way back from the “Imperial Palace”:http://www.silvertraveladvisor.com/travel-product/attraction/163119-imperial-palace-east-garden. The map in the book was small and the address vague, so we were struggling to find it. But what we did come across was a shop selling tonic to go with our duty free gin so we asked for help.
The man initially tried giving us directions before deciding it would be easier to take us there and we were glad he did, as although it wasn’t far, the name was in Japanese: we would never have found it on our own. He even went in with us and helped us make a reservation. We were told the only place free was at the counter which was fine by us. Bearing in mind how much trouble we’d had finding it, looking for an alternative just wasn’t an option.
The restaurant was small and intimate and the twenty odd seats were full at 7.30pm with men in suits. Our position at the counter was fabulous and overlooked the tiny kitchen so we could see what the chef was producing. This was helpful as, despite having an English menu, it still wasn’t easy choosing. It was much simpler to see a dish we liked the look of, ask the English-speaking chef what it was and then ordering, having agreed to share each dish.
We started with beers and fish balls before moving on to hot, crisp vegetable tempura guessing what the varied vegetables were – one that stumped us all turned out to be purple sweet potato. This was followed by fish with asparagus, a vegetable stir fry with omelette and then our favourite, pork belly and greens, which was so succulent it could be cut with a fork. We enjoyed it so much, that we finished with a soup with noodles and floating pieces of the pork belly.
One still hungry Horace then spotted doughnuts on the counter and thought it would make a tasty finale. He was a little disappointed when it arrived cut into four as they’d seen us sharing everything else.
Despite lots of pre-trip advice about credit cards not being widely accepted in Japan (which we thought odd), we paid by Visa and whilst our card went through, despite trying three different cards, our friend’s weren’t. Morale of this story, always have cash.
Whilst I’d certainly recommend Little Okinawa for the pork belly alone, sitting at the counter is a must. Watching the red-shirted chef, single-handedly produce so many varied dishes in a hot, cramped area, and with limited equipment, was the highlight of our meal.
We later read that in 2012, Little Okinawa was included in The Guardian’s list of “Top Ten Budget Restaurants in Tokyo”:http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2012/feb/01/top-10-budget-restaurants-tokyo.