Burger Police: It’s an arresting name for a restaurant, but there’s a lot more to like about this excellent new arrival than just its catchy moniker.
First of all, it’s a proper restaurant, not just a burger counter that happens to have seating. You can make a reservation, order at your table and linger over craft beer or natural wine. With its designer logo, large picture window and simple modern furnishings, it looks and functions like a chic little bistro.
And that’s exactly as you’d expect from the offspring of one of Tokyo’s best-rated (and hardest to book) restaurants, Tacubo in Daikanyama. Chef Daisuke Takubo’s fame and Michelin star were initially garnered for his Italian cuisine, but it’s his firewood-grilled wagyu steaks that now form the centerpiece of his menu.
Burger Police is a way of keeping his staff busy through the coronavirus downturn, while offering regular customers a change of menu in a more casual setting. And for those who have never dined at Tacubo, it provides a small taster of what to expect there.
There’s a compelling one-page list of appetizers, both cold and hot, to prime your palate. San Daniele prosciutto; carpaccio of octopus or salmon; Gorgonzola with celery — these are all bites worthy of any self-respecting ristorante.
As long as it’s in season, don’t miss the radicchio. The crisp, gently bitter, rosy-pink leaves are scattered with roasted hazelnuts and drizzled with an anchovy dressing. Ditto with the delicate yari-ika (spear squid), sauteed whole, served with a browned bagna cauda sauce and beautifully garnished on the plate with emerald-green Italian garden peas.
While all the starters are intended for sharing, solo diners can ask for half-size servings. With six wines offered by the glass (two each of sparkling, white and red), the temptation is to keep ordering until you’ve sampled everything.
But the burgers await. There are six to choose from on the Japanese-only menu, starting with the signature shio (salt) burger. This comes in two iterations: an entry-level patty made from wagyu shank (¥1,980), and a premium version (a hefty ¥3,190) made from 100% sirloin. Literally made to order, the meat for the latter isn’t even chopped up until just before it is cooked.
This is a gourmet burger like no other in Tokyo, pared back to the simplest of no-frills basics. No tomato, lettuce or onion, no avocado or fancy cheese — just a single patty of premium beef, grilled medium-well, resting in between two pristine buns. Instead of sauces, the only seasoning offered is salt and butter.
Apart from a small mound of sauerkraut, nothing is allowed to interfere with the flavor of your wagyu. Don’t bother to ask for mustard or ketchup: Burger Police doesn’t believe in them. As for fries, forget about it.
If that’s too austere, just ask for The Burger (in Japanese, Za Bāgā; ¥2,640). It includes a fried egg under the patty, plus an intriguing dark, rich sauce, which turns out to be a bolognese ragu developed first at Tacubo, here brilliantly repurposed as a burger dressing.
Working your way down the list you’ll find the hitsuji (lamb) burger, (¥1,980), a spicy collaboration with Azabu Juban’s much-loved Sunrise jingisukan (grilled mutton) restaurant. There’s also a maguro (tuna) burger (¥1,980), a tie-up with Yamayuki, arguably the most reputable wholesaler in the Toyosu market, which is made from chunks of tuna cheek mixed with mayo.
Last, but in many ways best, is the mushroom burger (¥1,540), comprising a thick, meaty shiitake grilled whole and topped with oozing melted Gorgonzola. Ironically, this vegetarian offering is the closest you’ll get to finding a mainstream taste here.
So are the burgers really worth the outlay, along with the 10-minute stroll from Toritsudaigaku Station? Absolutely, just as long as you go in expecting Burger Police to be a chic, classy bistro, not a fast food joint. As for the name … it comes from the location, right next to the Himonya Police Station.
Himonya 4-24-16, Meguro-ku, Tokyo 152-0003; 050-5872-5108; bit.ly/burgerpolice; open 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. (L.O.), 5-10 p.m. (L.O.), hours subject to change during COVID-19; closed Thu.; appetizers from ¥880, wagyu burgers from ¥1,980, shiitake burger ¥1,540; wine from ¥900; takeout available; nearest station Toritsudaigaku; nonsmoking; major cards accepted; Japanese menu; a little English spoken
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