Need to impress someone with slightly more upscale surroundings, but also need to keep dinner affordable and delicious? Check out En in Shinjuku, the izakaya that ticks all these boxes and more.
Miso and sake-lees grilled pork. - image © Florentyna Leow
I tend to eat alone, and so I gravitate to izakaya which welcome solo patrons. But sometimes I need to emerge from a more hermit-like existence to eat with other people. Sometimes friends will ask for something a little nicer, a little more chi-chi. Sometimes I might need a date-appropriate restaurant. Or, friends travelling to Tokyo might ask me where in Shinjuku they should eat - a difficult feat since this area isn't exactly my favourite place in town.
Inside En - there's tatami, counter, or table seating. Something for everyone! - image © Florentyna Leow
Luckily, En is the kind of place that ticks all the those boxes. Walk in there and you'll see mostly couples in their early thirties and groups of young professionals, enjoying dinner over cocktails from En's extensive drinks menu. It must be all the down lights and warm wooden paneling; it's just right for a romantic night out. Plus, all the dishes are designed to be shared by several people along with a stream of booze. Perfect for lubricating dinner conversation.
The table section. - image © Florentyna Leow
I don't even drink alcohol, but a taste of my friend's hazelnut sour had me debating internally for 5 minutes on whether to order my own. It is an unusual, beguiling, cold, light concoction that begins innocently enough before the hazelnut kicks in on your palate two seconds after you take a sip. Is it hazelnut liqueur or bourbon? A taste of Frangelico? Whatever it is, it's haunting and nutty and utterly addictive. You will spend the rest of the night wanting a second, third, fourth sour - if you haven't already given in to ordering several more.
Yes, there is an English (and Chinese!) menu, complete with photographs. It absolutely welcomes travellers to town. But that doesn't equal touristy: its location - on the 7th floor of a building behind Tiffany's - ensures that you have to be looking for this place to find it.
En serves all the familiar izakaya staples and then some. Grilled fish, miso cod, rolled Japanese omelette, spinach with sesame dressing, grilled beef steak, broiled stingray fin, soba, udon, a few rice dishes. There's something for everyone. In that regard, nothing on the menu is especially surprising.
Sticky tofu as a starter. The cover charge here is JPY450. - image © Florentyna Leow
I figured I knew what to expect from a place like this: perfectly decent if not innovative cooking in more upscale surroundings. But En still managed to surprise me with just how enjoyable some of the dishes were. The starter alone promised good things to come: mocchiri tofu, an unassuming mound of white tofu in soy sauce and a dab of wasabi. You expect something wobbly and silken, but instead it had an addictive stickiness and resistance to it. Have you ever had sticky tofu like this? You're missing out if you haven't. Small, white, clean, bright - you'd think Edelweiss was about this tofu instead of a flower.
Miso and shrimp namerou. - image © Florentyna Leow
You'll want to start with some nibbles. Otsumami are funky, salty, little dishes you eat to help the alcohol go down. You could try, for instance, the shrimp and miso namerou - sweet chopped pieces of raw prawn stirred together with a chunky sweet-salty barley miso. Alternate small chopstick-sized scoops with draughts of sake or beer. It's a good way to begin the night.
Then there's something like the miso sake lees grilled pork, pictured above. A well-done strip of pork with just the right ratio of lean to fat is one thing. Marinating meat in miso and sake lees - the leftovers of sake-making endeavours - turns it into a veritable umami bomb of a dish. It's the kind of food you wish you could have for a lunch on a huge mound of rice when it's been a particularly bad day at the office, something to lift your spirits when everything seems to have gone wrong.
All the cheese. - image © Florentyna Leow
Deep-fried yuba filled with cheese holds no hidden surprises. It's a straightforward dish everyone but the lactose-intolerant will love, best eaten while the cheese is still hot and molten.
Juicy, smoky aubergine in broth - image © Florentyna Leow
You'll need to balance all this out with something less greasy. To this end, the sakuraebi and aubergine in dashi broth is the perfect counterpoint to all this richness - no less flavourful in its smoky, gingery juiciness, but it will probably help slow down that impending heart attack from all of the booze and meat.
Fried rice. - image © Florentyna Leow
The takana and jako fried rice was a surprising winner here. It doesn't hurt that pickled mustard greens and baby sardines make a fantastic combination. I would come back just for this, and the sake lees pork. I haven't really encountered great fried rice all that often in Japan - many places just don't get the wok hei (breath of the wok) right. They do here.
Tsukune - image © Florentyna Leow
The tsukune (grilled chicken meat patty) is not bad, though it sits in a puddle of too-salty sauce. Also, there are better places to have monkfish liver (ankimo) - it's a little on the fishier side than most.
Salmon and avocado roll - image © Florentyna Leow
The only real dud of the night was the salmon and avocado roll. We ordered it as a lark, curious as to whether a dish so obviously imported from abroad would be any good. Don't bother - the rice is unpleasantly grainy, each piece is sliced too thickly to eat without the whole thing falling apart, and the sweet teriyaki-style sauce on the whole affair screams American-style sushi. You're in Japan; there's better sushi to be had elsewhere.
Next to the elevator. - image © Florentyna Leow
But enough of these culinary descriptions. You should be making a reservation here already - or better yet just dropping by with a friend or two, since it's the kind of restaurant large enough to accommodate most walk-ins. Don't expect a fast dinner here. Dishes do take a little time to emerge from the kitchen, and you'll find yourself eating at a leisurely pace. But that is the whole point here - to eat, drink, and talk with your companions.
This is for nights when you might be wandering around Shinjuku, bewildered by the flashing lights and seemingly endless eating options at hand. Make it easy: come up to En.
The entrance to the Takano 2 Building. - image © Florentyna Leow
Directions: Take Exit A4 at Shinjuku Station from the Marunouchi or Fukutoshin Line. Turn left when you're above ground. You'll see Tiffany's ahead on your left. Turn at the corner. Shortly ahead on your left is the entrance to Takano 2 Building. Take the lift up to the 7th floor. The doors open directly to the restaurant.
If you need help with getting reservations, you can book many Michelin-starred Tokyo restaurants online with GoVoyagin. Be aware you pay a fee simply for the reservation - your meal is not included.
Name in Japanese:
7F Shinjuku Takano 2 Building, 3-30-11 Shinjuku, Tokyo 〒160-0022
5:00pm - 11:30pm (Mon-Fri)
4:00pm - 11:30pm (Sat-Sun, Public holidays)
Closed over New Years
Segregated smoking section
Subway: 1-minute walk from Exit A4 of Shinjuku Sanchome Station on the Tokyo Metro Fukutoshin Line or Marunouchi Lines; 5-minute walk from East Exit of JR Shinjuku Station on the Yamanote, Chuo-Sobu, Saikyo, Odakyu, and Keio Lines
:: Read customer reviews of En on TripAdvisor
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