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By Junko Fujita
TOKYO, Sept 11 "Standing" bars - where customers
stand to drink - are currently popular in Tokyo, but now the
former chef from a Michelin-starred restaurant has taken the
concept to a whole new level by serving gourmet food.
Hiroshi Shimada, who once worked at the three-starred Tokyo
restaurant Azabu Yukimura, opened "Shimada" in the city's
fashionable Ginza district in January, and now has diners lining
up to sample dishes similar to what he used to create for
customers before - at a third or less of the cost.
Shimada, 40, maintains his insistence on top ingredients. He
uses a whole Ise ebi, a kind of lobster, for stock used to
prepare a gelee, which is served with sea urchin in its shell.
The secret, he says, is in turnover - one reason he doesn't
have any chairs in the tiny restaurant, which has space for only
Shimada spoke with Reuters about his new venture.
Q: Why did you want to open a standing bar type of
restaurant after Yukimura?
A: "Customers who would dine at Yukimura are just one or two
percent of the whole population. Rather I wanted to serve the
vast majority by charging less and open my own restaurant. Did I
want to open a yakitori place? No. I did not want to give up
what I had achieved in the past. This restaurant was a result of
connecting the two dots - serving first-rate food but for much
Q:How do you balance costs and profits?
A: "Our customers spend about 5,000 yen ($64) a person for
food and drink, what I would charge 15,000 yen for at a proper
Japanese restaurant. We do not want to charge more than that but
by tripling the number of customers, we can enjoy the same
amount of revenue. Also the cost for ingredients is 50 percent
of the price we charge here, much higher than other first-rated
restaurants. So rotation is the key. And we have to be always
Q: How can you prepare so many different dishes? The menu
ranges from fried matsutake, croquettes with snow crab, grilled
sweetfish and then typical bar food such as potato salad and
stewed beef sinew with daikon.
A: "I cook in an isolated kitchen and I have two staffers
who serve customers at the counter. By being inside the kitchen
I can 100 percent concentrate on cooking. When you cook at the
counter, you have to think about what to show to customers and
what not to show. And you have to keep the kitchen clean if
customers are sitting right in front of you. That could slow
down the process. Since I am in the kitchen I do not have to
entertain customers. If you talk to customers, sometimes the
dishes taste different from what you want... That's why I can
prepare so many different kinds of dishes."
Q: Why did you choose Ginza for your restaurant?
A:"I wanted to challenge Ginza. Ginza is known for expensive
bars and clubs and not known as a place for an inexpensive
standing bar. That's why I chose Ginza."
Q: What is your next goal? Would you like to go back to a
A: "I do not want to cook dishes that would cost 20,000 yen
a person again, rather I would like to try a restaurant that
sells everything for 500 yen because I have discovered that you
can make many things for that price.
"You know, I really enjoy this job. Here female college
students come with friends and start chatting with company
executives standing next to them. Sometimes customers who do not
know each other share dishes and I can feel people are having
fun while I am cooking. This is a very special atmosphere that
you can only enjoy at a standing bar. I have realized that this
is what I wanted to do for a long time."
Q: How would you like improve your restaurant in the future?
A: "I will not change my basic concept, which is to spend a
lot of time and effort to make good dishes. And I would like to
come up with a new menu all the time. I might allow customers to
sit down in the future. Because I want this restaurant to last
much longer - I am not just taking advantage of a standing bar
boom. In 10 years time, our customers will be older and I don't
know if they want keep standing while dining then. This is going
to be a hard decision because for us the rotation is important."
120 grams of soba noodles
150 grams of karasumi (botarga, salt-cured mullet roe)
1 T soy sauce
1 T mirin (sweet cooking sake)
1 T sake
1 t white sesame oil (Taihaku sesame oil is best)
Boil soba until tender; drain.
Put soba in the mixture of soy sauce, mirin and sake. Add
sesame oil and marinate.
Grate the karasumi on top of the soba until the noodles are
($1 = 78.3150 Japanese yen)
(Reporting by Junko Fujita)