Having been in Tokyo for a good few years now, I've developed a lot of affection for my adopted homeland. Sure, there are downsides as well as upsides to being an expat, but the longer I am here, the more it feels like home. So whenever people trot out lines like: “Japan is a bit weird, isn't it?” or “is Tokyo really as mental as it’s made out to be?”, I get all defensive. I try to say something like “yes, there are some pockets of strangeness, but once you scratch the surface it’s not so different from London or New York.”
And then they go and open a place like Robot Restaurant Deluxe.
Although located in the basement of a building in Tokyo’s red light district, ‘dark’ is not a word that can be used here: it’s filled with enough neon and strobe lights to illuminate several small countries. At the centre of the room sits a stage where two teams of women compete in various ‘battles’ throughout the evening, which involve them straddling neon light covered tanks, or climbing into mech-suits (naturally, also fitted with neon lights). If there were official point scoring criteria for these fights, it was not immediately apparent. One team wears helmets and revealing armour, like hyperreal (or just hypererotic) centurions; the other glitter covered leotards. Think a real life game of Soul Calibur, and you are halfway there.
They have a decent menu of standard Japanese pub fare too, but if your abiding memory of this place is the grub, then you’re doing it wrong.
Tokyo has a ‘thing’ for animal cafes. In addition to the countless cat cafes, there are also cafes where you can sit and play with rabbits while you drink your green tea lattes. The team at Sakuragaoka Cafe however have taken it up a notch: they decided it would be a good idea to have a pair of goats in their joint.
Although the animals are generally safely locked away in their pen by the entrance, if you ask one of the waitresses, they are usually more than happy to take the goats out for a walk and let you pet them. The goats also ‘write’ a blog on the website, and are becoming minor celebrities in their own right, having been featured on various TV variety shows.
The cafe itself is in one of the trendier parts of Tokyo, in the back streets near Shibuya station. It has a decent menu of western style lunch sets and desserts, and also hosts various live events. It has enough going for it to thrive without the goats, but that doesn't seem to have detered the owners.
Incidentally, whilst writing this, a friend of mine reminded me that there there used to be a bar in Tokyo which had an actual penguin in it. There was apparently a refrigerated chamber in one of the corners in which the penguin waddled around whilst the salarymen got drunk on sake and shochu. It sadly closed down about 3 years ago, possibly for animal cruelty reasons.
As is probably becoming clear, in a city as restaurant saturated as this, people will try literally anything to make their establishments stand out. Sexy robot fights? Done. Live animals? Listen, unless you can bring back dinosaurs or something, it probably already exists here too.
The guys at W.P.G.B. have tried a different angle, naming their diner after Whoopi Goldberg, the American actress. Alongside the titular 'Whoopi Goldburger' (a standard burger), and an avocado topped Helena Bonham-Burger, the menu also contains the self-explanatory 'Kevin Bacon-Burger’, a Sarah Jessica-Burger (sadly, not horse meat) and my personal favourite, the 'Charlotte Gains-Burger' (ironically, considering that it's named after the waif-like French actress, containing 3 patties). The burgers are huge, but in the unlikely event of not being satisfied, you can order one of the additional sides, the highlight of which are the spare Liv (rib?) Tylers. The drink menu was, although containing a wide variety of international beers, disappointingly conventional in its names. Where was the Mr Tea (Mr T), or a David Hasselhoffee (coffee)?
Something more conventional to finish with. As the story goes, Quentin Tarantino liked this place so much that he built a replica of it as the setting for the iconic restaurant scene in Kill Bill. The menu has a huge variety of Japanese food: sushi, tempura, noodles, steaks, and as the pictures demonstrate, the whole place is astonishingly beautiful. With Sakura trees in the garden, lanterns above, and bamboo in the hallway, it’s the kind of place that I dreamed all restaurants here would be like. Until I actually got here and discovered that there are just as many McDonalds and Subways as there are back home.
Despite its fame, the high prices keep out the riff raff: George Bush and Bill Clinton are said to dine here whenever they are in town. However, pro tip: the lunches are considerably more affordable than the dinner menu, so make a reservation for a weekday around noon if you want to leave with money left in your wallet.
Have any other recommendations? Leave a comment.