Floating dining is just the beginning of what makes this restaurant so memorable.
Conveyor belt sushi restaurants, where sushi is delivered to diners by conveyor belt, is a Japanese system that has become well known around the world, but did you know are there a few restaurants that deliver meals by boat?
One of those hard to find restaurants is Irori-yaki and Tofu Nabe Hinatoriyamalocated in Hachiojia city in Tokyo just over an hour away by train or car from Tokyo Station.
▼ The restaurant has parking for 100 vehicles and invites guests to a relaxing oasis with a beautiful entrance gate.
The grounds are like a park, with benches, toilets, and a small chapel that can be found on the way to the restaurant, which has a water wheel in front of it.
Lush moss and forest air create an extremely relaxing atmosphere that makes visitors feel like they have escaped to an oasis away from the outside world. The building itself is full of charm and character, like an old country folk house you hear about in folk tales.
▼ Guests are guided along this balcony to a private dining room, with lanterns and wooden signs outside displaying the name of each room.
▼ As you step inside, you’ll feel like a special guest in your own private room with an irori (hearth).
As the full name of the restaurant – Irori-yaki and Tofu Nabe Hinatoriyama – indicates, the main attraction here is tofu nabe (hot pot with tofu)and irori-yaki (grilled food on irori), and after entering the room, the staff places charcoal in the hearth.
Each room is private, so even solo travelers will be able to relax in seclusion, and while a meal (the menu consists of dishes only) lasts over an hour, you will only have contact with the staff on three occasions: when they lead you to your peace, when they add coal to the hearth and when you pay the bill.
“And when will they bring your order?” Perhaps you are asking. Well, due to the boat’s unusual delivery system, the staff don’t bring your order to you – you just pick it up yourself…
▼ …through that window on the back wall of the room.
▼ Slightly open the window here and you will be surprised to see…
All the windows of the private tatami rooms face the canal and the water is always flowing so you feel like you are having dinner by the river. Only on this river you will not find people on boats, you will find meals on boats, with perfect platters of food arriving at your window.
▼ How is the delivery?
Diners are alerted to food deliveries by the sounds of chirping birds – when you hear the birds singing, just open the window and you can pick up your food tray from the boat.
▼ Be sure to only pick up the metal tray and leave the boat alone in the water.
This delivery system is even more impressive because there is no special high-tech magic behind it. Each window simply has a plastic tab which is pushed out by a jet of high pressure water, presumably released by a control in the kitchen which stops the tray at the respective window. Once the food is collected, the water becomes calm, lowering the flap and allowing the boat to continue its merry way back to the kitchen.
With the basic course of Hinatoriyaki, you get several deliveries over the water with various trays of food, starting with appetizers that consist of a side salad and skewers of konnyaku dengaku (yam cookies with a miso coating).
▼ You will also get tofu hotpot.
The tofu hotpot is placed on a solid fuel burner which is ignited using the lighter supplied with the meal.
▼ A little later, you will receive ingredients for grilling on the hearth.
The basic Hinatoriyaki course costs 3,820 yen (US$27.68) and includes appetizers and a hotpot, as well as four chicken skewers, two vegetable skewers, and one chicken meatball skewer.
▼ Each skewer contains large portions as they are heavy to hold.
Different dishes offer different skewers and some include sausage, shrimp, sea bream and even ayu sweet fish. If you decide that you want to add more drinks or skewers to your dish, you can order them for an additional fee over the phone in the room.
Guests make the skewers themselves, but it’s easy as the hearth is cleverly designed so the skewers slide into the slot to sit at the right angle for grilling.
Just turn the skewers occasionally so they don’t burn, and enjoy the enticing aroma of grilled meat while you wait until they’re done.
▼ Skewers taste even tastier when you grill them yourself.
Biting into these skewers will leave you speechless with their fantastic flavor. The chickens in particular are absolutely outstanding, with a moist flavor you can only get when grilled over charcoal.
The tofu in the hotpot was delicious too, and the broth is made with homemade dashi (dried and smoked bonito fish stock), which gives it an extra depth of umami flavor and a slight sweetness that makes it taste a bit like a thick soup.
▼ Perfect soup that you will savor until the last drop.
The course includes a choice of green tea soba, nabeyaki udon, Sanuki udon or white rice as the final course. Highly recommend the nabeyaki udon with delicious broth and thick, chewy noodles.
▼ So nutritious and warming, especially on a cold winter day.
The end course is usually delivered about an hour and a half after the course starts, but if you’re in a hurry, you can use the phone in your room to speak to the staff and ask them to speed things up a bit.
▼ Otherwise, take your time and pour yourself a cup of tea after your meal.
Having a spacious, private room all to yourself makes it tempting to stay here all afternoon, but alas, when your meal is over, it’s time to grab the room tag and return it to reception, where they’ll use it to calculate your meal.
▼ The room label has the name of the room printed on it so the staff will know how much they will charge you.
Once you pay the bill and go out into the garden, you’ll probably promise to visit it again.
Not only is it a beautiful escape from the hustle and bustle of the modern world, but the service and food quality is excellent. Plus, of course, the novel waterway system is something you don’t see every day in Japan, and the luxury of a private room makes the whole experience even more special.
This is one restaurant you will want to visit again and again and also introduce to all your friends and family. And if you’re looking for a different restaurant that delivers food to guests by water instead of a conveyor belt, you’ll want to head to Shizuoka, where you’ll be mesmerized by the charm of the wooden logs as they float by.
Iroriyaki for Tofu Nabe Hinatoriyama / いろり焼ととうふ鍋ひな鳥山
Address: Tokyo-to, Hachioji-shi, Kamiyuzuki 1602-4
Open 11:00-22:00 (last entry 20:30)
Closed on Wednesdays (excluding bank holidays)