An exclusive restaurant in an exclusive part of the city.

In certain parts of the world, curry is an exotic, ethnic delicacy, a dish for adventurous gourmands. Here in Japan, though, it’s a standard part of the modern diet, rapidly becoming one of Japan’s favorite meals following its introduction to the country in the late 1800s.

But while it’s enjoyed by just about everyone in Japan, there’s one restaurant in Japan where you can’t sit down and eat a plate of curry unless you’re a registered member.

While you’ll find some establishments in Japan that strictly restrict their services to clients who’ve pre-registered and been approved of by the management, this kaiinsei system, as it’s called, is something that usually exists for high-end bars and cocktail lounges. We’d never heard of a members-only restriction for a curry restaurant until we found out about Kyobashiya Curry, which opened in 2006 in the suitably fancy and exclusive Ginza neighborhood.

Roughly a five-minute walk from Kyobashi Station on the subway’s Ginza Line, you might walk right by Kyobashiya if you’re not careful. There’s small sign out on the sidewalk, but the restaurant itself is located on the second floor of the nearby building, with its entrance hidden behind a noren curtain.

But even if you know where to look, once you get to the top of the stairs and arrive at the restaurant’s front door…

there’s a sign warning you not to open it.

“Please don’t open the door!” read the kanji characters highlighted in a curry-like brownish yellow.

Since the restaurant is for members only, we guess stopping people at the door until their status can be confirmed makes sense. However, we were pretty sure we could still get in after registering, since we’d done some checking around online and learned that apparently there’s only one criteria for membership at Kyobashiya, which is that members have to be non-smokers, and we’d put together a non-smoking reporter task force to go check the place out.

As we stood at the entrance, an employee noticed us, came over, and cracked the door. “Hello,” she said with a warmer smile than we’d expected of a restaurant with strict admission regulations. “Is this your first time here?”

We told her that it was, and also added that we didn’t smoke. “We’d like to become members, please,” we asked, but after a lengthy pause, the woman responded with:

“…I’m sorry, but that’s not possible.”

Our line of work has made us used to rejection and heartbreak, but this time hurt especially badly. Seeing the pain in our eyes, and hearing the rumbling in our stomachs, the woman, who’s the wife of Kyobashiya’s owner/chef, explained:

“My husband has multiple chemical sensitivity, and gets very sick if he detects the smell of tobacco. That’s why, since our opening, we’ve only admitted members who don’t smoke. Recently, though, he’s started to have reactions to the smell of fabric softener and hair products, so it’s become difficult for him to have any customers in the restaurant.”

Because of that, Kyobashiya has stopped accepting new members. However, we weren’t entirely out of luck, because even though we couldn’t come into the restaurant, we could place a to-go order, since those don’t require you to be a member.

We decided on a three-curry combo, which would let us sample the entire trio that makes up Kyobashiya’s menu. Just to be extra-fancy, once we got back to the office we transferred the contents of our take-out containers onto a plate.

▼ Fanciness

As you might expect from a chef who’s not keen on chemicals, Kyobashiya’s curry uses no artificial seasonings or additives (and, surprisingly, no water is used in making them either). To start, we grabbed our spoon and tried a bite of keema curry, where the tasty and juicy ground meat gave way to a mild tartness from the tomato juice that goes into the roux.

Next came the unique Tokie Curry, an original creation of Kyobashiya that gets its name from the Japanese words for chicken (tori), cabbage (kyabetsu), and shrimp (ebi). Coincidentally, that’ also the progression of the flavor profile, which starts with meatiness, transitions to a vegetable sweetness, and wraps up with salty seafood notes.

And last we dug into the Spicy Datedori Curry, which uses a special breed of regional chicken from Japan’s Miyagi Prefecture, in the northeastern Tohoku region. While the keema and Tokie curries had only had a bit of spiciness to them, the Spicy Datedori Curry fulfills the promise in its name with a fiery kick.

At 2,100 yen (US$19), we can’t say it was a cheap meal, but it was definitely a tasty one, and given that Ginza is definitely one of Tokyo’s high-rent districts, the pricing isn’t particularly out of whack for the neighborhood. Kyobashiya also has less expensive curry sets, with a single variety plus rice costing just 1,300 yen.

Really, the only downside is that unless you’ve been grandfathered in, Kyobashiya can’t offer you a place to sit while you eat. Even that’s not a major hurdle, though, since the Ginza neighborhood is packed with department stores, most of which have rooftop gardens with benches that provide views of downtown Tokyo for you to gaze out upon while you enjoy your curry.

Restaurant information
Kyobashiya Curry / 京橋屋カレー
Address: Tokyo-to, Chuo-ku, Kyobashi 3-4-3, Sennari Building 2nd floor
東京都中央区京橋3-4-3 千成ビル2F
Open 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. (Tuesday-Friday), noon-2:30 p.m. (Saturdays, holidays)
Closed Sundays, Mondays

Photos ©SoraNews24
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