This Shinjuku izakaya delivers an upscale dining experience with great food, plush interiors and views to die for… all without breaking the bank.
Anyone who has been to a run-of-the-mill izakaya will know what this beloved Japanese institution is all about about — cheap food, cheap drinks, a lively atmosphere and permission to forget about all of life’s problems for a few hours with friends and, if you’re at a more traditional establishment, the old lady / old man who runs the place. There are an uncountable number of izakaya in Japan and in this modern age one can find many variations on the basic theme that cater to all manner of budgets and occassions. Perched atop the 52nd floor of the triangular Shinjuku Sumitomo Building, Yuian is one of the ever-growing number of classier izakaya that’s not only equipped with a healthy respect for its humble origins, but also a keen eye for looking very, very sexy.
As you exit the elevator, one can peer into the central abyss of the Sumitomo Building. That’s 52 floors, straight down. Acrophobics might want to give this a miss.
Outside Yuian, you would be forgiven for thinking that this was the entrance to some posh nightclub, or at least somewhere far more expensive.
The genkan, where you take off your shoes before entering the main dining area. The staff take your shoes and stow them away while you dine, and bring them back out for you when you leave. And no, that’s not me. I can’t pose like that.
The modern, beautifully-lit interiors that combine traditional wooden and tatami textures with stone and glass are a joy to dine in.
The dining space is one long passage that wraps around the building’s triangular shape. We were seated in the first section, which accomodates a series of long tables set against tall windows overlooking Tokyo, and a counter bar area where you can watch the chefs slice and dice. Further along the passage are a kotatsu area and a number of decorated private rooms nestled into the corners.
We ordered the “Yuian Course”, as detailed above. Many izakaya automatically impose a small seating charge (Yuian’s clocks in at just over 500yen per person), but at Yuian, you can waive it by ordering a course meal like the one above instead of going à la carte. This one was one of the mid-range courses — the cheapest (excluding tax) was 3500yen and the most expensive, seafood and crab-laden one was somewhere around 7500yen. Prices are per head and there is a minimum 2 people per course and 1 course per table. A somewhat outdated menu, with relevant ballpark prices, can be found here.
So without further ado, the course in photos.
Tuna and whelk sashimi. Whelk, as I was informed by my scientifically-minded friend, is a kind of sea snail.
Fried shrimp and vegetable chips.
A small fillet of grilled sweet soy sauce-marinated salmon.
Green tea tofu. Looks like green tea ice cream, but unfortunately it just tasted like tofu.
Our nabe (hot pot) simmering away.
Chicken and assorted vegetables stewing in one very tasty soup that, by virtue of it being a hot pot, got tastier by the second.
After we’d finished our hot pot, the same pot and leftover broth was used to cook these udon and spring onions.
To cap it all off, a small dollop of sorbet which tasted surprisingly like sake. It was good.
With our bellies full from the course meal, drinks and the complimentary hot green tea, we relaxed and enjoyed each other’s company in the presence of one of what was undoubtedly one of the best dining views in town.
If you’re lucky enough to be seated at the window edge of the table, as I was, this is literally what you see when you turn your head to look outside. A constellation of lights as far as the eye can see. Dazzling.
Everything we were served went down well. Almost all of it was Japanese-style comfort food — very simple and undeniably satisfying. After all, despite what the fine dining-esque surroundings may lead you to believe, Yuian is still an izakaya at heart.
Service was polite and friendly enough. Our smiling young waitress was attentive and patient with our group’s combined lack of Japanese ability, although she didn’t seem to be aware of a few of the restaurant’s basic ordering rules — such as the “one course per table” rule — until after we’d finished placing our carefully selected individual course orders. Either that, or one of her introductory menu explanations went completely over our heads (quite likely).
English-only speakers will be pleased to know that there is, to my knowledge, at least one English-speaking staff member on hand (a wonderful thing when placing reservations over the phone), and furthermore, the menu is also conveniently available in English. I suppose they must get their fair share of foreigners, or at least locals entertaining foreigners.
And rightly so. Yuian is a top contender for anyone without a bubble-era budget wanting to impress for a special occassion. The stunning views are undoubtedly the restaurant’s biggest draw, but even without them, the sophisticated interiors really do elevate the ambience above that of the average izakaya. In fact, when we first arrived, the windows were all big panels of fogged-up grey due to the recent rain… but that didn’t stop us from gushing at how nice the place looked on the inside. As for the food, our course consisted of largely familiar fare but sometimes that’s all one needs to wind down and forget about all the troubles, headaches and pressures left behind in the world far, far below.
52F Shinjuku Sumitomo Bldg.