Domo arigato, Mr Robata: Classic robatayaki at Musashi
Along the Yamanote Line from Tamachi to Yurakucho stretches a cornucopia of cheap eateries. The center of this strip is Shimbashi, home to thousands of hard-working salarymen who are eager to play hard when the city chimes ring at 5pm.
Yakitori gets the most love when it comes to restaurants along the tracks, but just a couple blocks away is Musashi (Shimbashi 2-9-17, Minato-ku, tel. 03 3580 3550) -- a cheap robatayaki that offers incredible value for the quality of food it delivers.
Background on robata grills
'Robata' literally means 'hearthside or fireside.' In the 1960s, a restaurant in Sendai took this romantic image of a Japanese irori hearth as the name of its restaurant. And it was more than just the name: The restaurant featured counter seats clustered around an irori that the owner used to grill vegetables, fish and meat skewers. They then served the food on a large-size shamoji -- a giant, wooden spatula that can reach from the hearth to the customers at the counter.
Apprentices at the restaurant set off to open their own restaurants, one famously in Kushiro, Hokkaido and others not so famously in Osaka, Fukushima and Aomori. Before long, robatayaki-style cooking was born and had burned a path across Japan.
Musashi grills it up in Tokyo
Musashi is a wonderful, representative example of the robatayaki genre. Chefs sit seiza style in front of the fire and dutifully serve up mackerel (saba), Pacific saury (sanma), Arabesque greenling (hokke), scallops, chicken skewers, garlic, green peppers and ham, whale, ageatsu tofu cuts, shiitake mushrooms and much, much more. Most items on the menu are a mere ￥290 per serving, including all of the grilled items noted above. There is a single English menu that is passed around to help expedite the ordering process for foreigners, but if you can read Japanese then the items posted on the wall such as fried oysters (￥500), a sashimi 'moriawase' platter (￥1100) and salads are also available.
Musashi fills up quickly, generally by 6 or 7pm every day, so the small tables can be a tight squeeze for groups larger than four. It's most ideal for a pair, as that makes it easier to get a seat at the counter around the robata -- definitely the best seat in the house.