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Sunday, Sept. 1, 2002

TOKYO FOOD FILE

Sublime fare, out of the blue


Just what Tokyo needs -- another Asian-themed dining bar that features exotic interior flourishes and caters to the youthful Ginza office crowd. But hold the all-knowing, world-weary sarcasm. In the case of Lime, it's unfair and quite uncalled for.

News photo
A tranquil ambience and Indonesian cuisine shimmer under the aquarium of Lime in Ginza.

Unlike the proliferation of generic ethnic izakaya that have opened in the last few years, Lime eschews both overblown theatrics (giant Buddhas, massive floor space) and faux-casual hipness (aloha shirts, Thai trinkets, beach-hut palm fronds) in favor of a more intimate, contemporary look. And instead of rehashing the usual Chinese-Thai-Vietnamese foods, Lime looks to Bali for inspiration -- a decision that we can only applaud, since Indonesian food is so woefully overlooked and under-represented here in Tokyo.

The entrance is not immediately obvious, but you know you're in the right place when you spot the small aquarium full of tiny tropical fish, all glinting electric-blue. Upstairs, you find a larger fish tank installed behind the bar area, this one populated only with white fish that are lit so brightly they seem to illuminate the entire restaurant. Elsewhere, the lights are kept comfortably low, and so is the music (not Asian pop but jazzy contemporary beats). The waiters wear uniforms of fashionable black.

The dining room is broken up into several different seating spaces. They have booths for couples or foursomes, and a row of simple tables and chairs overlooking the street. Along one side, there is a raised dais with carved teakwood screens where you sit on the floor Indonesian-style (except that the thick foam cushions are much more comfortable than any you would be likely to find in Bali). And there is also a separate area at the back equipped with banquettes and comfortable chairs where you sit surrounded by greenery, trickling water, brickwork and a couple of stone statues.

In short, the look is Balinese lite -- and so is the menu. You will find enough satay, gado-gado and nasi goreng to construct an adequate Indonesian meal. At the same time, there are plenty of other, more familiar foods to choose from. Servings are not large, but all dishes are intended to be split between two, and since very few are priced over 1,000 yen, you can hardly go wrong.

Spring rolls are the yardstick for any self-respecting restaurant these days -- and Lime's pass the test well, albeit verging into Californian new-wave territory. The rice-paper wraps are freshly prepared and the rolls well-constructed. No Vietnamese would recognize the stuffing of tuna (fresh maguro, red but lightly seared) and avocado, but it's always a great combination, and it works just as well in spring rolls as in California nori-maki.

Lime's gado-gado is a simple salad of cooked vegetables. Surprisingly, it contains no bean sprouts. Instead, it is composed of blanched cabbage, chunks of potato, carrot, mange-tout peas and okra, along with wedges of boiled egg and cubes of atsu-age tofu. It is accompanied by a creamy but bland peanut sauce (we asked for extra nam plaa to perk it up).

The Fried Fish Balls (one of Lime's specialties) turned out to be an intriguing take on the classic tod man plaa served in most Thai restaurants. The deep-fried balls of pounded white fish meat were spiced up with chili and infused with the appetizing savor of lemongrass, conjuring up memories of tom yum soups we have known and loved.

The satay, in three different varieties, is basically yakitori with exotic flavors. The kuro-buta pork is fatty but good, enhanced with peanut bits sprinkled on top. The sticks of jidori chicken are better still, but best of all is the satay ririto. These are the Balinese equivalent of tsukune, balls of minced chicken and pork meat, given extra zip with lemongrass.

Boil the Ethnic Herb Paper Parcel of White Fish. With a name like this, how could we not order it? The idea of steaming fish (sea bass, in this case) wrapped in paper is hardly Indonesian, but it tasted just fine, the delicate flavor of the fish complemented by asari clams, chopped tomato and (surprise surprise) more of that lemongrass.

We could have closed our meal with nasi goreng (fried rice) or mee goreng (fried noodles) but opted instead for the Wrapped in Steamed Rice Lotus Leaf. This was a mistake, since these simple parcels of rice steamed inside lotus leaves are too bland. The only seasoning is a whole lotus seed, so it would have been better to have ordered it along with a side dish, one of the curries, perhaps.

But we enjoyed our evening at Lime. Here is a place that shows it's possible to take the concept of an "ethnic" izakaya and make it interesting and relevant. The food is above average and served promptly. The wait staff is young, but friendly, well-trained and always on the ball. And the place still exudes the buzz of being fresh and new (it opened in July).

You will find Lime tucked away on the second floor of the Ginza Corridor, a street of eclectic (and generally inexpensive) restaurants and drinking holes built below the expressway that runs next to the Yamanote Line between Shinbashi and Yurakucho.

Lime
Ginza Corridor 2F, 7-12 Ginza, Chuo-ku; (03) 5537-1455
Open:5 p.m.-4:00 a.m. (last order 3:00 a.m.); Saturday and Sunday 5-11:30 p.m. (last order 10:30 p.m.)
Nearest stations: Shinbashi (JR and Ginza lines)
How to get there:Take Exit 5 of the Shinbashi subway station and walk in the direction of Ginza. After going under the expressway, take the street curving off to the left (Ginza-Korido-dori). The entrance to Lime is just after Hub (an ersatz British pub).
What works: Pan-Asian izakaya fare with style and poise
What doesn't:The unwieldy teakwood chopsticks
Number of seats: 82
BGM: Harmonious (and very unobtrusive) contemporary beats
Price per head:Figure around 3,500 yen (not including drinks). Cover charge 500 yen/person.
Drinks:Beer (Asahi Super Dry) 620 yen; cocktails 680 yen; wine from 580 yen/glass, 3,000 yen/bottle
Credit cards: Most accepted
Language:English/Japanese menu; some English spoken
Reservations: Recommended

Please e-mail comments and recommendations to the Tokyo Food File at foodfile@yahoo.com


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