Brown Rice Cafe is an immensely popular place that has been well-covered by bloggers that are both residents of, and visitors to Tokyo. It’s clearly eked out a name for itself, and it’s not hard to see why. One reason for its popularity could be the fact that it’s actually the culinary outlet of Neal’s Yard Remedies – a Covent Garden-based health and beauty retailer that I used to visit once (just once) a year when I was a student in London. (For those who are interested, NYR is always a sensible place to visit on Christmas Eve, when choosing an appropriate gift for mothers and aunts starts to become slightly, well, critical). Shopping aside, Neal’s Yard (the lane, not the retailer) is also home (or used to be home… apparently it has closed?) to the hippie-tastic World Food Cafe – a proud endorsement for vegetarianism if ever there was one. Enough reminiscing, back to Tokyo.
Brown Rice Cafe is a 100% vegetarian (almost vegan) restaurant located a short walk from Omotesando. It’s tucked away within the web of crowded and immensely character-full side streets that run off Aoyama Dori. The Cafe itself is hidden away from the road, so keep your eyes peeled for the signboards (and/or the distinctive Neal’s Yard logo). Perhaps unsurprising given the location, it’s popular with ladies who lunch and their accompanying daughters. If it wasn’t for an elderly American couple (tourists, one male), I probably would have felt a lot more self-conscious than I already did. It probably didn’t help that I was sitting at a large, communal table and was flanked on one side by an adult mother-daughter combo, and on the other by two friends (both ladies), and one of their’s young daughter. Even the servers were all female!
Not that any of this really, mattered, of course, as I was there to lunch. The menu is small but select (and, thankfully, in English), and I actually found it very difficult to choose one dish over another – they all sounded delicious. Eventually I settled for the one soup and three sides set (¥1,500), which came with miso soup (the “soup”, duh), miso-flavoured tofu with simmered root vegetables, some pickled vegetables and brown rice dusted with black sesame and sunflower seeds (the “sides”). And, of course, the obligatory post-prandial tea or coffee. Very civilised.
As expected, the miso tofu was delicious. The miso – which is essentially fermented soya beans plus some other tasty stuff – provided strong salty and sour flavours that were nice balanced by the robust-but-bland wedge of tofu on which it sat. I guess the closest British equivalent would be cheese and pickles (apologies to all the Japanese out there I have probably just offended), as every bite was punchy and invigorating, but slightly soothing as well. The tofu came nestled amongst an array of wintery root vegetables – lotus root, asparagus, pumpkin, shiitake mushroom and hijiki – which added an additional spectrum of earthy flavours to the meal. The simple naturalness of the ingredients worked together well to provide a relaxed and effortless eating experience that could (and should) appeal to all. Blokes included.
Brown Rice Cafe
5-1-17 Jingumae, 1F Green Building, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Open 12.00-21.00 daily
Time Out Tokyo’s review
Bon Voyage Vegan’s review
Bebe & Us’s review
Tokyo Eats review
The Tokyo Street’s review
Pocket Witch’s review
Meagan Mastriani’s review
JoJo + Japan’s review