Gonpachi is an izakaya in Nishiazabu near Roppongi, famous for being the model location for a fighting scene in the first Kill Bill movie (2003). It is a chain of restaurants with only the one in Nishiazabu having the special interior with the 2 floors and a central court as it is featured in the movie. The other Gonpachi restaurants follow the same interior styling but lack the 2-storey setting. The restaurant was started in 2000 with the goal of recreating an old style Japanese house as the decor and providing an upscale dining experience.
I remember being very impressed entering for the first time now more than 10 years ago. As a fan of Tarantino’s movies I was happy to see it existed for real. It also felt very Japanese and a much better experience than many other eating places in Tokyo. I understand very well why this place got popular and why Tarantino liked it.
The heavy wood and bamboo just feels nice. The booths on the second floor give a nice view over the central court and kitchen. Taking off your shoes for entering these booths adds to the charm. Luckily you do not need to sit on the floor, you can stretch your legs under the table. The downstairs area features regular tables and counter space.
From the second floor you get a stunning view over the central court below
This izakaya became so famous that it is now a tourist destination, rather than an izakaya where people go after work (I talk here about the location in Nishiazabu, not the other locations). On weekends, they also do taiko drum shows. During my visit I saw a lot of foreigners, many more than at other locations I visited so far.
As for food, Gonpachi actually specializes in soba. They also have plenty of other things on offer, from Kobe beef to tempura and rice dishes. So basically, they do every type of Japanese food. I was kind of happy that it is a chain restaurant, so a certain quality level is required. If it were only tourists, you might get awful results as in many of the Asakusa restaurants these days.
The food prices are reasonable. It’s not a cheap izakaya such as Torikizoku, but it is hardly expensive. You can easily have meal and a couple of drinks for JPY 3500 (if you choose wisely), which is rather cheap for a nights out. When I go out with my Japanese colleagues, JPY 3000 for one person is the cheapest it can get, usually one person pays between JPY 3000 and JPY 6000 for a casual get-together in the evening with a couple of drinks (it’s usually the drinks that make it expensive).
An izakaya means that you eat a selection of small dishes just as tapas. So, what is good here?
- The sushi and soba are mediocre (for Tokyo). They are OK, but you can get better quality for less money at other places.
- The yakitori and tempura are disappointing. I got quite interested in yakitori (see article) in recent years and was surprised with the bland taste. As for tempura, I must clarify that I am rather dissatisfied with most tempura these days after eating the premium stuff (see article).
- More interesting are the items on the menu that are not so common at izakayas. See photos below.
All in all, the food fits the price. Regular items such as the salad and even the zaru dofu are good. My review of the food might be critical, but for this price level it was just fine. If you want to have exceptional food in Tokyo, you need to go to the next price level.
I feel though that the atmosphere can be improved. During the whole time I was there they were playing loud american 80s party music. Hardly appropriate for this stunning decor.
1-13-11 Nishiazabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Roppongi Station – 10 minutes walk (Hibiya Line, Toei Oedo Line)
Nogizaka Station – 11 minutes walk (Chiyoda Line)
Dinner: starting from JPY 3500 a person (with limited drinks)
Lunch: JPY 1000-2000
(reservations can be easily done online)
Names in Japanese: 権八 西麻布