Blink and you might miss it, but tucked away on a side street, off the old-school shōtengai (shopping street) in Tokyo’s Koenji neighborhood, is Baby King Kitchen, an establishment where even adults eat off the kid’s menu.
Not entirely sure what to expect on our first outing there, we walked past a designated stroller parking area and were greeted by a steep set of stairs and a dangling string, to be pulled if you needed help getting your stroller upstairs.
We didn’t, so we made our way up. It is a whimsically decorated space — walls lined with picture books, and sofas strewn with fluffy cushions shaped like donuts and ice-cream cones.
Sinking into a cushy sofa by the window, the girls soon discovered more entertainment with colored pencils, paper, pop-up picture books and hand puppets lining some shelves, and a tiny swing and slide in the back corner.
I was drawn to this restaurant by the kid’s menu and the owner Yasuhiro Tanaka’s self-proclaimed passion for the okosama lunch (kid’s lunch) — a highlight of any restaurant experience for many children who grew up in Japan, myself included.
With origins in the 1930s at Mitsukoshi’s flagship Nihonbashi department store, back then it was a plate with an assortment of children’s favorites, such as fried prawns and spaghetti. Curious about Baby King Kitchen’s interpretation of this classic, I spoke to Tanaka. “When I was opening this restaurant, I listed all of my favorite foods, and I realized that they were all things you would normally find in an okosama lunch,” he said. “I wanted this to be a place not just for kids, but for (those who are) kids at heart.”
The Baby King Kitchen signature okosama lunch (¥1,100) comes with a dome of ketchup-flavored chicken rice topped with the requisite flag, a small hamburger steak on a bed of spaghetti, a smiley-face potato, fried prawn and sausage cut to resemble an octopus.
The flavors made me nostalgic and everything tasted just as it should: nothing terribly complex or surprising, just Japanese, little kid comfort food at its best. There is no age limit on the menu here, so adults can also eat like kids (and ditch the veggies for once). The lunch also comes with a little omake (toy).
To finish off our meal, we ordered the Bunny ice-cream (¥580), which elicited squeals of delight from all at the table, and featured adorable strawberry ice-cream bunnies, complete with cookie ears and paws.
Picking up some delightfully decorated cookies at the register on our way out, we extended our Koenji outing by heading across the street to Potter Cafe. Here, children and adults can design their own plates or mugs while enjoying a cup of tea, and then pick up the finished items at a later date.
For those with young babies, Potter Cafe will help you create a plate featuring your baby’s hand or footprint for a darling memento.
It’s easy to while away an afternoon with kid-friendly fare and discover your inner artist at these establishments — they are sure to delight both your kids and the kid inside you.
Baby King Kitchen is located at 2F, 3-2-15 Koenji-Kita, Suginami-ku, Tokyo; open daily, 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m.; call 03-5356-9960 for reservations. Some English spoken; English menu coming soon. Potter Cafe is located at 2F, 3-21-5 Koenji-Kita, Suginami-ku, Tokyo; open 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; closed Thursdays; call 03-5373-8099 for reservations. English menu; no English spoken