Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Lobby Lounge (Shangri La), Tokyo

A series of difficult or distressing meetings and emails? Too much fish food? Whatever the reason, I set out for a late lunch with a deep desire to eat a burger, and a mild disappointment that I was unable to think of a (new) place to do it. I had resolved to walk to Yaesu and bum around, feeling like I would again fail and end up eating cheap fried food, when it came to me: hotels always have burgers. Truly words to conjure by. And then I realized that I was walking perilously close to the Tokyo Shangri La (tucked away somewhat secretively to the left and behind the Tokyo Station northside bus terminal), and in I went.

The lobby's on the 28th floor, folks, that's the first point to keep in mind. I stood in the elevator for a few seconds while I figured out which button to push. But once I got up there, it was the usual otherworldly expensive hotel experience, and with views to boot. I approached the reception desk, feeling guilty about all the people speaking English to me, and said "I'd like to eat a hamburger." They steered me toward the lobby restaurant.

Second point for you to keep in mind - if you go here, do it with someone else. The tables are predominantly next to the windows, but they're all 4-tops, and the staff will refuse to give them to you if you're alone. Even when they're empty and it's 1:30. It's well worth sitting at the windows - the views are totally groovy. I'm not even sure which direction it was; probably southwest since there were no big buildings or water visible. But all the chairs are big and well-stuffed and covered with something alternately smooth or velvety, and it's all perfect for settling in, watching the well-heeled customers on vacation for Obon (most of them looked Japanese), and waiting for your burger. Even if you had to sit at the bar it could be OK - the chandelier that hangs over most of the bar is a stunning confection made of 890 ginko leaf-shaped pieces of cut crystal (OK, I stole some of that from their decsription, but it really was stunning and kept me staring at it). One of the ridiculously happy waitresses brought me the condiments while the burger cooked - a four-part polished wood tray with ketchup, mayonaise and two kinds of mustard.

As with a lot of luxury burgers, this was a luxury concoction. An excellent, eggy bun was toasted well, and on it a roundish, lumpy patty of beef was topped with onions and lettuce. The menu didn't say that the beef was Kobe, but the juciness and flavor were startling. I'd would have preferred it to be flatter and more solid for easier eating, and more charred to get a grilling fix, but the beef quality was great. The menu said the onions were grilled, but I'm pretty sure they were actually poached in red wine; they were like little pink slivers with a mild onion flavor. Satisfying. Good.

The fries were lame. No other way to put it - thick, square-cut pieces of sweet potato that had been grilled, not fried, and sprinkled with a bit of spice. Just lame. The side salad of baby leaves and sprouts was nice enough.

The whole experience was OK - you can see out the windows from anywhere in the restaurant, which is spectacular, and the internal environment and service are alternately beautiful and comforting. I felt much better when I left - it was somehow easier to walk. Maybe it was the hole in my wallet.

Glad I don't have to go back to this place...
(81 3) 6739 7888

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