As with most addresses in Tokyo, Zenyaren is difficult to find. When your overnight but sleepless flight from London landed only a few hours ago, and you’ve had a scant 1 hour nap since checking into your hotel, it’s doubly challenging. Luckily, Pete and I are with two Tokyo friends, Masamitsu and Voltaire, who manage, with the aid of smartphones, to track down my chosen venue.
How did Tokyoites navigate their city before the era of online maps and satellite navigation?
Zenyaren is down in the basement of an office building, about 10 minutes walk from Tokyo Station. We are late for lunch and far too early for dinner, so much of the large space is empty. We are shown a large table in one of the cosier side rooms that break the space up.
The key attraction of Zenyaren is that it gathers together in a single place cooking from seven yakitori restaurants across Japan, giving you the chance to try regional yakitori favourites.
Indeed, our waiter tells us that in his home region, yakitori is commonly made with pork (even though the word itself means fried or grilled poultry).
With our drinks (umeshu for me, beer for the rest) come minced chicken balls, given crunch by the addition of finely chopped cartilage. Fabulous, and oddly reminiscent of Swedish meatballs!
We order various mixed platters of yakitori, our waiter explaining the condiments that are intended for each. It’s a good selection, with each of us favouring different skewers, nothing lasts too long. We also try a chicken skin dish, which is very tasty but I’d like better if the skin were crunchy rather than flacid, and some whole fish that are a particular favourite of Masamitsu’s.
With another round of drinks, the total bill for four is ¥10,220 (just under £70 at the exchange rate during our visit). For those planning to make a night of it, the menu also includes some reasonable drinks plans (where you pay a fixed price for unlimited drinks from a specified selection). Zenyaren is a great place to go with a group and I can imagine it becomes far buzzier when busy, during lunch or dinner hours.
We stayed overnight near Tokyo Station so that we could take an early morning train across to Kyoto the next day. Usually, we prefer to stay in Asakusa, in Northern Tokyo, a great area of the city for travellers, with lots of charm and things to see and do. It’s also easy to reach Asakusa from Narita on your arrival into Japan.