There are lots of coffee shops in downtown Tokyo. They’re a mix of hole-in-the-wall establishments, sometimes in basements, everywhere in department stores and, of course, the American chains are well represented. But European coffee lovers need to exercise caution.

Some Japanese-style coffee houses look the goods – a giant bean roaster in the window, a sign in English lulling the unwary into a misplaced sense of familiarity. Japanese coffee can be weak, sweet and incredibly expensive.
Greedy Girl has often sought out Australian baristas when travelling – finding them in such far flung destinations as Stockholm and New York City. When you like your coffee strong, but still drink it with milk, communicating what you’d prefer can be a challenge – and sometimes it has nothing to do with whether English is the coffee maker’s native language.

So, to Tokyo. Actually, far and away the best coffee Greedy Girl sampled in Japan was at Flatt’s on the Noto Peninsula but more on that in an upcoming blog.

Australian chef Bill Granger has franchised his Bills operation to Tokyo, with two cafes (as well as other outlets elsewhere in Japan). Greedy Girl hopped on the train to head to Odaiba and the Decks Beach shopping mall.

This is worth it just for the train ride on the Yurikamome line (heading towards Toyosu – the Tokyo train system is so easy to use, despite the variety of private train providers) and try to get in the first carriage, near the driver for a great view. It’s a little twee, initially, standing on the train platform at Shiodome station and listening to the recorded bird tweets being piped throughout the station. This particular line does a specatcular loop to go over a bridge and head down to Odaibakaihinkoen station. When you get off the train (all signs are written in western script and announcements are also in English), the shopping mall is an obvious destination, set above a beach (such as it is) and a nicely landscaped parkland.

A tip – while Bills opens relatively early, the shopping centre doesn’t open its doors until 11. You will see the windows to Bills in front of you as you walk down from the station. Don’t go into the shopping centre before 11 as all you can do is walk the full length, head outside (on the beach side) and walk all the way back along the boardwalk to Bills. It’s much easier to walk the short side of the building (i.e., to the right of the Bills windows as you face them) and queue up to be seated.

One of the great joys of Tokyo is that smoking is banned on the streets and, by extension, this applies to alfresco dining tables as well. While Bills doesn’t allow smoking inside, be warned that a great many restaurants and cafes do. The day was a little cool for sitting out, so we were shown into an enormous dining room, with pale wood and cream accents and seated at a comfy table. There’s a little section at the back with booths and games to while the afternoon away.

Being at Bills provides an odd sensation – having experienced the Sydney variation several times, the menu is almost identical. Granger’s signature ricotta hotcakes with banana and honeycomb butter do a roaring trade here. Hungrily we watched plate after plate whisked to the tables around us (the dining room seats around 200 people – and the place is very busy). Having already had breakfast (and really in search of a decent coffee) we couldn’t resist ordering a serve of hotcakes to share, followed by our requisite coffee.

The hotcakes were very enjoyable but not as sweet as Greedy Girl remembered them in Sydney. Unusually, she needed to pour syrup over them to get enough of a sweet hit. Eventually, the moment she’d lusted after arrived – a ‘strong’ cafe latte appeared. It looked quite OK but even though the request for a strong coffee meant a double shot, it still tasted insipid. The sting was yet to be felt though – it was priced at 800 yen. That’s a big gulp for coffee.

Still, it was a pleasant enough outing. Greedy Girl remained fixated though, on finding a decent coffee. Enter our friendly concierge at the Park Hotel, Chris. He recommended a place in Ginza, run by a rather ancient fellow (his words, not ours) who was incredibly fussy about his coffee. By this stage, it was our last day in Tokyo and we had a laundry list of things still to do, including a decent lunch. Unfortunately, the coffee shop (and Greedy Girl wishes she’d kept the name but will attempt to find this out on her next trip) did not open until midday.

Who are these people that they don’t need a coffee hit before midday? There was, happily a Plan B – another trip to the burbs, this time to Daikanyama. Chris described this as a groovy little area, lined with shops, boutiques and cafes and he was absolutely correct. Just a couple of streets, with little lanes and courtyards, it was young and groovy. Emerging from the train station, Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband spied a quite nice looking cafe and a European couple sitting outside, chatting over coffee cups. It checked a number of boxes – the coffee looked good, the table was outside on a sunny day, the cafe itself had free wi-fi (not to be sneezed at) and, hallelujah, no smoking was allowed.

Coffee in Tokyo

You can find good coffee in Tokyo but it’s not cheap

The message on the coffee cup basically just summed it all up for Greedy Girl. It was more than decent coffee – and a relatively reasonable investment at around 600 yen. Asking for the wi-fi password to be able to tweet it was a bit of fun. Our friendly waitress, who spoke a little English wanted to give us characters for the password. Hmmm. Not sure Greedy Girl’s linguistic skills were up to that challenge. The cafe is called ‘Sign’ and comes as a hearty recommendation. It offers a mix of Japanese and western delights to eat and we happily wandered back there after our walk around the area to have lunch.

You won’t spend an enormous amount of time in Daikanyama – it isn’t that big. There are loads of cafes that undoubtedly we would try on another visit and also some amazing, huge book stores where you’re encouraged to pull up a chair and sit and read – the only downside there is that the coffee is provided by Starbucks. There was an attractive looking restaurant called Ivy Place with again a very varied menu but even at noon there was a wait list to be seated – around 40 minutes. Try to book. There’s a great resource available online for more information about various districts in Tokyo. Click here to visit

The laneways, boutiques (if you’re of European descent, you may struggle to find any clothing to fit you – the sizes are very small), cafes and spots to sit and people watch are terrific here. It’s a little adventure on the train but well worth it, especially on a sunny, pleasant day.

Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband will be heading back to Tokyo in mid-2014 so look out for more updates!

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