Gekko Self Grill Paradise
Fresh air and grilled food on the banks of the Tamagawa
By: Jane Kitagawa | Jun 16, 2011 | Issue: 899 | No Comments | 4,687 views

Photos by Jeff W. Richards

Menu in: Japanese

About ¥1,500 per person without drinks

No nonsmoking seats

Indoor, outdoor, garden, rooftop—try for one of the terraces

Finger-licking tabletop BBQ among the treetops

Paper plates too flimsy for the food

2F, 1-1-4 Tamagawa, Setagaya-ku

Tel: 03-3700-1664

Nearest station: Futako-Tamagawa

Open Mon-Fri 5-11pm (LO 10pm), Sat-Sun noon-11pm (LO 10pm)

If a languid meal will help you get by this summer when the balmy weather hits, then there will be few more tranquil and refreshing options than a barbeque at Gekko Self Grill Paradise.

First-timers will need a map. For later-evening bookings, they might also need a torch. Once you reach the riverside from Futako-Tamagawa station, Gekko is a five-minute walk along an informal gravel track. Bordered by imposing residences looking over to neighboring Kanagawa Prefecture, this dimly lit track leads to a glassware shop, next door to a three-story restaurant “complex” with sofas and tables in an enclosed ground floor area. Gekko’s entrance is at the far end of this building.

For those without reservations, scoping the available seating is a must. With its faux African décor and paint job, the second floor exudes a tribal vibe and its enclosed area provides respite from insects. Also worth noting: it’s only a short trek to the bar and self-service area. However, groups of two might prefer to sit at the outside counter nestled among the sakura trees.

Larger posses need to head upstairs to the third-floor al fresco dining area. Marked by a long terrace with tables overlooking the river, it’s perched high enough to ignore the other customers below. It’s relaxed with casual seating and there’s a party space on the roof that is sure to be in demand during beer garden season.

As the name suggests, self-service is Gekko’s MO. Not just getting the food, but cooking it and clearing the tables too. That means there’s no chef to blame if the cooking goes wrong.

Diners serve themselves at the kitchen/register/bar area, a space reduced to its essential elements: a stainless-steel sink, fridges, a hotplate, and shelving units displaying bounty from both land and sea. Just like a Japanese bakery, customers grab a tray and tongs and choose whatever takes their fancy. Gas canisters for the barbeques run extra (¥100 each), while food is pay-as-you-go.

On a recent visit one sultry evening, the shrimp (¥191 each) immediately beckoned, as did the unshucked oysters (¥286), squid legs (¥91) and half-dried mackerel (¥334). A table of nearby office workers recommended the Ise ebi, aka Japanese spiny lobster (¥1,800). Although easily the most expensive item on the menu, the lobster, once barbequed, was a succulent and opaque-fleshed treat. For the more herbivorous among us, mushrooms in foil, golden half-cobs of corn (both ¥191), jumbo-sized shiitake (¥143) plus eggplant, shishito peppers and pumpkin (all ¥43) were the go.

“Where there’s BBQ, there’s beer!” was the mantra for the evening, and Suntory Malt’s (¥381) did the job. Feeling peckish, we also ordered servings of bonito sashimi (¥312) and pickled mackerel (¥191). It assuaged the hungry hordes waiting for food to cook and paired well with Hakkaisan sake (¥572), one of the better non-beer tipples on offer. (A warning: many of Gekko’s beverages are of the canned variety, so order wisely).

Next up, frankfurters (¥150). From Tokyo to Toronto, Nagoya to New York, no matter where you are in the world, it seems these are a perennial grilling favorite. Juicy and flavorsome, Gekko’s snags did not disappoint. Similarly, it’s not quite a barbeque in Japan unless there’s yakitori (from ¥100 per skewer). All the standards are available, but unfortunately, the tare was watery and insipid, letting down the smoky fare.

A wider selection of quality condiments would better serve Gekko’s food.

Boneless short ribs (¥286) and steak (¥429/100g) round out the carnivorous options, while for those people seeking a carbo boost, the rice, oddly, is priced by weight (¥96/100g).

All in all, Gekko provides a simple but enjoyable dining experience for the do-it-yourselfers and BBQ fans out there. We’ll definitely be back, but the experience might ultimately benefit from a selection and service more appropriate to its pleasant, heat-beating setting.



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