Rikyu: Ikebukuro
Ikebukuro / Yoshoku
Nishi-Ikebukuro 1-12-1, Esola Ikebukuro 7F.
Open 11am-10pm (LO) daily.
Sun: Open Sundays

Beef tongue is the main ingredient in the kitchen at Rikyu, where it's transformed into well over a dozen different dishes, from tongue sausages, meatballs, and terrines to curries and Western-style stews. The piece de resistance though is the excellent charcoal-grilled tongue - a popular regional specialty of Sendai, where this small chain restaurant originates. The menu is rounded out by creative and original izakaya fare, with a nice selection of Sendai-area sake to wash it all down.

Conveniently located in a shopping complex inside Ikebukuro station, Rikyu stays open all afternoon for late lunchgoers and snack-seekers. Several teishoku-style set menus cater to diners who just want a quick meal, and in particular the "Marutoku Rikyu Set" (Y1575) is a satisfying and budget-friendly introduction to the shop's offerings. It includes a half-order each of grilled tongue and a choice of tongue curry or stew, plus oxtail soup, smoked-tongue salad and rice.

The tongue curry is quite tasty - it's a spicy Euro-Japanese version, with a roux made by blending Indian spices in a French-style stew base. (Other options are the more Indian-influenced keema curry or a milder tongue stew.) The oxtail soup is pleasantly beefy in flavor, with substantial chunks of meat and lots of leeks, and some demonstratively spicy miso-marinated pickles liven up the grilled-tongue platter.

If you're not in a hurry and want to explore the full menu, numerous small dishes are waiting to be sampled. Smoked tongue - served here as thinly sliced sausage - is beautifully spiced, and the beef-tongue tsukune (grilled meatball on a stick) is much meatier than the usual chicken version. Another favorite on our list is the kakuni stew made from pork belly and beef tongue. It's simmered in red wine - an unusual ingredient for this dish - but everything works together well, and the tender, slow-cooked meat is full of vibrant flavors.

One unexpected offering is the tongue pie - flaky pastry stuffed with tongue hash and served with cream cheese and blueberry jam, a breakfast-ready combination we found strangely compelling. However, we'll probably skip the seared-tongue sashimi next time around - our last batch was far chewier than we would have preferred. On the whole though we've been very impressed by the quality of the food and the creativity of the original dishes.

In addition to the usual beer and shochu, the drinks list includes half a dozen local sake brands from Miyagi Prefecture, which is known for its excellent small breweries. Rikyu also produce their own house brand of sake, and we can recommend their daiginjo, or the three-glass tasting set if you want some variety.

Budget around Y3000-4500 for a full meal with drinks, or Y1000-1500 for a quick teishoku set. There's a solid selection of take-away tongue too - from vacuum-packed charcoal-grilled tongue to pre-cooked pouches of stews and curries. (Other Tokyo branches are in Akasaka, Kichijoji, and Tokyo Station.)

by Robb Satterwhite
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