By Bonson Lam
It was a glaringly sunny winter afternoon in Omotesando. Yes the fashionistas are wearing sunglasses here are for a reason. Minutes later, I momentarily forgot being blinded, being two meters underground. Like a speakeasy in the Prohibition era, this hideaway with no windows to speak of turns night into day, least anyone catches me imbibing the bottle keep whiskies or sake, or actually enjoying myself with the smooth sounds of Duke Ellington.
Being two in the afternoon on an empty stomach, I knew I needed more than jazz to keep me going. Noppo’s Izakaya keeps their kitchen open until 3pm for those with unsocial schedules, so it was their lunch set that won me over. With five different yet hearty options starting from 1000 yen, you can even pay for your friends.
I chose the boiled fish set, which came with miso soup, rice and two small dishes. The pickles were pure homemade goodness. There was some crunch left after pickling, but not too much, with the carrot cut into matchstick slices adding to the sweetness and crunch. The green cabbage pickles on the other hand were thicker but still in bite sized pieces, giving your teeth a more of a workout, with the vinegar and radish like rawness contrasting with the fragrant sesame seeds and the cucumber slices. The miso soup as always was excellent with tofu skin rolled in a spiral.
Now for the main act. The fish chunks looked like simmered pork or pork prior to being pulled, with a dry and fat free appearance. They were a bit dry on the inside, due more to the nature of the fish than being overcooked, so feel free to double dip in the beautifully burgundy hued broth. Maybe they should have pulled the fish like pulled pork, or I should have ate the fish with the pickles rather than having them separately.
Actually there were so many fish chunks (volume- wise) that you could feed two people, if not a starving family. The slim fashionistas here clearly don't eat as much as grandma used to. A bit less fish and perhaps another side dish would have made it perfect. If I were to come again I would try their variety of sushi and sashimi dishes including sashimi don. The daikon radish on the other hand was perfectly paired with the broth, soaking every drop of goodness with an almost melt in your mouth texture while retaining its shape and integrity.
This place attracts a loyal and local following, as attested by the collection of bottle kept whiskies and sake, so you know these guys are in for the long run and not just for the tourist trade. They also have a wide selection of cocktails and draft beer at reasonable prices.
If you like young men with deep voices then the cooks and wait staff at Noppo are perfect for you, with voices like yakuza hit squad but with an efficient and polite “hands off” service style. It's the kind of service you want in a business lunch where you can negotiate trade treaties uninterrupted, but this is too relaxed for such weighty matters. On the other hand if you like young girls with knee high socks who welcome you with a screaming irasshaimase then pop back to ground level and head back to Harajuku.
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I knew my future was destined to be with Japan the moment I flew from Sydney to experience the atmospheric lane ways of Kyoto last century. From the skies above Sapporo to the old charm of Naha's alleyways, I have been enchanted by the beauty and variety on every island. I am humbled to have met many distinguished people in my role as Regional Partner, especially the national living treasures of Japan, such as the doll maker to the Imperial Family. From sushi cooking classes to Ninja training grounds I welcome your ideas on what you like from JapanTravel.com. Please visit us in Kyoto or Osaka and have some green tea or sake with us.