In the feudal days of Japan, the ultimate undercover warrior was the ninja. Always watching, always hiding in plain view, he was bound to strike his target at any time.
Pop culture has romanticized the image of the ninja, so it makes perfect sense that in a neighbourhood just steps away from the tourist and gaijin hub of Roppongi, a ninja-themed restaurant has set up shop. But don’t for a minute mistake Ninja Akasaka as being in the same category as chain-owned theme restaurants like Rainforest Cafe or Planet Hollywood. While the ninja theme is immersive, the food – unlike with the chains – is amazing.
It was a rainy Saturday night when Chris, Lucas and I ducked though the door of Ninja Akasaka where we were immediately greeted by a hostess who showed us to the waiting area. She told us that the ninja who would take us to our table was hiding in plain sight. We smiled, and started looking around the room to find him or her. That’s when a young woman burst through a door that was hidden in the slat walls. We smiled at her arrival, and she proceeded to open yet another secret passageway to lead us through a “ninja training” obstacle course en route to the dining room.
The dining area at Ninja Akasaka is large and maze-like – just like the hallways to get to it. We had a private booth with a traditional Japanese dining setup where the table was sunken in the ground, and we sat on cushioned seats on the floor – our legs dangling in the sunken space below the table. The booth a nice way to have a private meal, with sliding wooden doors separating us from the other tables.
Because we had made a weekend reservation for the restaurant, we needed to choose a course menu from the website prior to our arrival. We had decided on the ¥5,700 Kunoichi Course – a sampling menu with eight courses delivered over a period of two hours. Other course menus are available, increasing in price all the way up to the ¥20,000 (C$200) per person Hideyoshi course, which includes a variety of Japanese beef items.
We also let the restaurant know of my shrimp allergy in advance, to ensure that I wouldn’t be a hayfever-ish, swollen, sneezy mess by the time we finished our meal. They handled this in stunning fashion with alternate menu items for me which were as well thought out and appetizing as what came with the standard course fare.
First up was a serving of black seaweed crackers fashioned to look like throwing stars, along with spreadable foie gras which was also shaped like a star.
The crackers had a great crunch and looked fantastic, while the foie gras was smooth and flavourful. It was at this point we were certain we were in for an amazing meal.
Next, was a delicious gazpacho which gave us just the right amount of spice and tanginess. In it were small cubes of tofu and croutons. A very nice dish!
Our third course was possibly one of our two top items of the night. Small chunks of friend chicken in a delicious batter were served covered in charcoal.
“Chicken Fritters – Ninja Style” is what the website for the restaurant describes them as – which is cute, because they really are hiding behind all that charcoal. It was a great balance of smoky and salty flavour which had all of us at the table exclaiming “oyshi!”
My allergy was addressed in the fourth course as our ninja server brought to the table a special cooking set to make a stone-boiled bouillabaisse for Chris and Lucas which included pork and vegetables in a shrimp/soy milk/bacon soup stock. After combining the ingredients, she grabbed a pair of tongs and dropped what we discovered was a very hot stone in to the mixture, which proceeded to cause the stock to boil and sizzle!
It was quite the show. After the soup cooked, she served bowls to Chris and Lucas.
As the guys got their soup, another ninja came along and brought my item for this course – a delicious hot soup made with a soy milk and bacon base, with chunks of bacon, corn and fish flakes in it. The timing was spot-on for him to arrive with my bowl, and I could have eaten this all night long.
Our fifth course was a cold capellini pasta with tomato sauce which was nice and refreshing – but what came after it was pretty fun.
A different ninja knocked on the door to our booth and sat down and proceeded to perform “ninja magic” for us! It was quite the show – and with no cameras allowed, I shall leave the results to your imagination so as to not spoil the surprise. But let’s just say his magic act was entertaining!
Up next was our sixth course – a sweet-and-sour crusted pork. At first glance, these looked more like prunes or plums because they were so dark in colour. But when we bit in, the flavour exploded – and this was easily on par with the chicken-in-charcoal for the winning item of the night.
North American sweet and sour sauces tend to be red or orange in colour, and often are more or less just a sweet sauce. This was complex, sticky, almost molasses-like in texture – and all kinds of crazy delicious.
A sampling of sushi came next with the treat being the tama (egg) – which was rather spectacular (it did NOT taste like egg at all – but so delicious!)
Again, with this course, because a shrimp option is often offered, the prawn on my plate was replaced with what I believe was a baby corn cob wrapped in charcoal-dyed sushi rice (and was very tasty!)
Finally, the evening concluded with an apple and sorbet dessert that left us wanting more (and that’s a good thing)!
Overall, the night at Ninja Akasaka was excellent. The food was fantastic, the service was on the mark, and the novelty of the theme wasn’t cheesy – but rather set the scene to tell a great food story. With an English-speaking staff, foreigners can easily navigate the experience and have a great time to tell their friends at home about.
While Ninja Akasaka doesn’t fit on the “budget” end of the spectrum for dining, it is worth every yen. I would highly recommend it to anyone visiting Tokyo!