This is hardly the most obvious name for an Indian restaurant. It started life some four years ago as a friendly little Bengal-accented cafe-restaurant in the back streets on the other side of the station, quickly making a name for itself as a reliable spot for authentic Indian cooking. Then three months ago they moved closer to the main tourist drag.
It’s more than just a change of address, though; it’s as if an exotic butterfly had emerged from an unremarkable chrysalis. Suddenly the fortunate folk of Kamakura find themselves blessed with a seriously good Indian restaurant.
The premises may be bigger now, but they’re still just as welcoming. A hand-painted mural adorns the wall by the front door. Folksy-naive designs in primary colors have been daubed across the ceiling. The lamps are fitted with jaunty star-shaped shades. A Bengal tiger prowls across a wall-high carpet at the far end of the room. A small raised dais occupies another corner: This is used for occasional live performances of sitar or other Indian music.
They obviously haven’t heard of the standard-issue manual for ethnic restaurant interior design. Neither have they blindly followed the same identikit menu planner adopted by so many of the Indian eateries around the metropolis. T-Side is much more than the usual tandoori-and-keema curry joint.
All four compass points of the subcontinent are covered. Yes, they have rich, buttery curries in the usual Mogul style of North India, but they also have preparations from Kerala in the far south. There are spicy fish curries from Calcutta and mutton dishes from Madras. They even venture up to the far Himalayas, with a small selection of Nepalese foods.
This culinary tour of South Asia reflects the composition of the kitchen staff. The Bengali influence is understandable, since T-Side’s owner-manager, MD Sharjahan Ali (better known as Shaown), hails from Bangladesh. But head chef K. Vijayan was born in Madras and worked in Mumbai, hence the high profile given to the spicy foods of the southern states. They also have cooks from Delhi and Katmandu who contribute from their own traditions.
It’s a remarkable selection, and the only problem is that you’re spoiled for choice. You could start with some dosa, crisp rice-flour pancakes served with a coconut-rich dip and a small tamarind-sour soup. Then continue perhaps with a bowl of begun barta (a Madras-style eggplant curry) and some vegetable sambar, a light fragrant soup.
But do you still have room for chef Vijayan’s excellent, rich Mumbai-style mutton chetinad? And what about the Nepalese momo dumplings? The only way to do justice to a menu of this depth is to arrive with plenty of stomach space and a group of like-minded companions, so you can share plenty of different dishes.
Failing this, you can at least start exploring the variety of the T-Side menu with one of three different thali set meals, in either Madras, Mumbai or Calcutta styles (each 2,480 yen). All of these feature a selection of appetizers, two different hot foods, rice, pickles and dessert.
There are also smaller set meals with your choice of curry for 1,980 yen. The only negative aspect of these (and the only concession to Japanese curry-rice sensibilities) is the miserable little salad of grated cabbage and lettuce adorned with Thousand Island dressing out of the bottle.
This is a small blemish, and one that is easily forgiven, especially since the rest of the food at T-Side is as good as you’d find anywhere in Tokyo — or even at most Indian restaurants in London. That’s high praise indeed.
In fact you may want to reassess your priorities when you next make that trip down to the coast.
If you’re eating closer to the ocean, these days umi-no-ie are as likely to offer spaghetti as ramen, or serve up tacos and Corona alongside the yakisoba and Superdry. But here are a couple of other options to consider in drawing up your itinerary.
The dark gray sand of Kamakura beach is a long way from the sparkling azure sea of the Okinawan islands, but Sun Cafe Paradise takes you halfway there with its eclectic menu of rafuti, goya chanpuru and soki soba, served in a large plastic tent filled with secondhand furniture, tropical plants and surf music. Even though it looks every bit the temporary beach hut, it actually operates year-round, and is a popular hangout with the surfers and the late-night crowd who like to cruise up and down the coastal highway.
Sun Cafe Paradise, 6-4-25 Zaimokuza, Kamakura-shi; tel: (0467) 24-6734.
Farther down the coast in Hayama, the vibrations are even more alternative. At Oasis the staff wear African textiles, the bar serves awamori cocktails and the air is filled with dub music and clove cigarettes. The kitchen turns out simple but remarkably satisfying versions of Thai curries, Okinawan noodles and various exotic specials of the day. This year, they’ve installed a grill producing sticks of great value yakitori. The live performances are as eclectic as the food: Aug. 12 is Okinawa Night, with sanshin music and dances from the Yaeyama isles; the next evening showcases master drummer Aja Addy from Ghana; other nights it’s mostly reggae.
Oasis is on the beach at Morito Kaigan, Horiuchi, Hayama-machi; tel: (0468) 75-4142; Web site: www.yk.rim.or.jp/~warp/oasis
Our favorite beach house of all, though, is even more remote. Blue Moon overlooks the tranquil, unspoiled bay at Isshiki Kaigan, right behind the Hayama Imperial Villa. There is little to see except green hills dropping into the sea and the ocean stretching out in front of you across to the Izu Peninsula, and little to do except tune in to the sound of the waves or the variety of musicians who perform live until late in the evening. They do have a well-stocked bar, though, and, on weekends, organic coffee from Brazil, plus a kitchen that turns out great salads, taco rice with guacamole and fat, fresh-cooked potato wedges. Who needs more than that?
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