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In the shadow of the swanky Imperial Hotel lies a wholly original dining experience. Stepping into the small and time-worn storefront of Robata, you enter another dimension. It has the feel of a movie set: Cramped, dark and filled to the brim with high-quality and eclectic artwork. Here, you can feast with your eyes as well as your stomach.

At the door, you'll usually be greeted by Takao Inoue, the owner of this unique restaurant. On the night of our visit, he looked dashing in an old-fashioned kimono with hakama. We were, of course, with friends in the know, and we followed them as they climbed a narrow strairway past a warren of little rooms, arriving on the third floor, a magical space filled with all kinds of eye-candy.

Robata restaurant exterior, Tokyo Robata still life
Irori hearth at Robata appetizer plate, Robata
Soup with clams, Robata restaurant, Tokyo Agedashi dofu and kake age, Robata restaurant Tokyo
From left to right, top to bottom: The exterior simply says "Robata" in kanji. Above, it says "ofukuro no aji" ("taste of home", or literally, "wife's taste"); a still life on the third floor; the irori hearth in front of a maneki neko (beckoning cat) painting; an exhuberant appetizer plate; clam and mushroom soup; agedashi dofu (fried tofu) and kakeage (fried vegetable fritters)

It's only in photos that I can now concentrate on each view and take in the quality of each thoughtful arrangement of artwork. But while we were there, the effect was almost overwhelming because there's just SO MUCH of it, covering every square inch.

The food has nothing to do with the name, which is a Japanese grill surrounded by counter-style dining. It is, however, home-style, as the writing on the facade claims, and it's a great place for people who enjoy big flavors. The style is both casual, yet elegant, humble, yet exhuberant, and each course is served on stunning and unusual tableware from famous kilns across Japan. There is no menu, so our friends had ordered an omakase (chef's choice) set with a focus on seafood and vegetables ahaed of time.

Robata is a wonderful place to escape Tokyo's hard edges, and I can think of no place that is more of a contrast to the city's gleaming glass-and-concrete facade. Sinking into the comfortable seating around one of the low tables with good friends, a few rounds of drinks and inventive, exhuberant food, it comes highly recommended too.

Robata sign, Ginza, Tokyo
Above: The cryptic English sign invites passersby, but is easy to miss. Below, a portrait of the owner in his younger days stands watch on the third floor.
Portrait of the owner of Robata restaurant

Address: 1-3-8 Yuraku-cho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
TEL: 03/3591-1905

Getting there: The closest train station is Yurakucho, exit 4A.

Tip: There is no menu, but Mr Inoue speaks English, so you can let him know what you can and cannot eat and how much you'd like to spend. Better yet, call ahead of time.