Hainanese chicken rice is extremely popular in Singapore - it's practically the national dish - and it's also the inspiration for this chic little cafeteria in the shadow of Roppongi Hills. The dish is built around a very fragrant, intensely flavored jasmine rice, and the aromas of this steaming rice hit you as soon as you walk through the door here, permeating the small dining room.
The paper placemats on each table include a recipe for Hainanese chicken and detailed instructions for eating it. You get a good-sized portion of steamed chicken, tender enough to cut with the side of your fork; a big heap of herb-infused jasmine rice (refills are free); a peppery but otherwise plain cup of chicken broth; and crunchy pickles. You're also served dollops of three very different sauces - a sweetish Thai-style chili sauce, ginger sauce, and a thick, dark soy sauce.
The idea is to mix a bite of chicken, rice, and one or more of the sauces in your spoon and then eat it all together, with sips of chicken broth between bites. We're not sure how this place would rate in Singapore (we suspect that the chili sauce might be underwhelming for that town), but here in Tokyo it's worth a visit for the jasmine rice alone.
Lunchtime choices are limited to chicken rice plus one other dish, but the dinner menu includes a number of curries and spicy stews from various points in Southeast Asia. They're listed on the menu with helpful little pepper icons to tell you how spicy they are, ranked according to a three-pepper scale. We tried one of several Singaporean seafood stir-fries, and the garlicky, peppery sauce packed a good punch, although the shrimps were disappointingly bland. Much more successful was the laksa lemak - a popular Malaysian-style dish containing thin noodles in a rich, spicy, creamy, thick red soup, along with bean sprouts, fried tofu, clams, hard-boiled eggs and more.
The interior is pleasant and simply decorated - dark wood chairs and tables, white tile floor and white stucco walls. (At lunchtime we noticed a lot of well-dressed women wearing black, and they fit in perfectly with the decor.) The service was unusually friendly and enthusiastic. The drinks menu includes French wines for some reason, along with Yebisu and Guinness beers on tap (a much better match). The chicken rice is also available for take-out in case you want to hold a Singaporean picnic out on your balcony.
by Robb Satterwhite
This book will introduce you to more than twenty of Japan's favorite specialty foods that are less well known abroad, along with a guide to the best places in Tokyo to try them and expert tips on what to order. From Bento.com.