It’s rather a strong field, but our group of industry experts (our three daughters aged 6, 10 and 12) have chosen their top 5 favourite desserts in Tokyo. From conveyor belt cakes to ice cream animals, here are the best sweets we found in the backstreets of Harajuku and Shibuya.
1. Ice cream animals
In a quiet street off Meiji-dori in Harajuku, Denki Shokai (“The Zoo”) make Harajuku’s cutest ice cream (Google Map). We first saw the wacky animals on Instagram and decided to visit the little parlour. They sell ice cream shaped like various kawaii (cute) animals: choose a pig, panda, elephant, chicken or tiger for ¥500. It’s ¥800 for two scoops or ¥1000 for three. Their ice cream is delicious, but presents you with difficult choices: do you want to pick a certain flavour, or a certain character? The pink pig is made from strawberry ice cream, for example. We compromised by ordering a different scoop for each member of the family so everyone could get a taste of all the flavours.
Another Instagram-friendly menu item at this café is the Electric Bulb Soda: wild-looking colourful soft drinks in glasses shaped like lightbulbs (¥700, try matcha milk or lychee soda).
Once you’ve got your animal ice cream, you can pose for a photo inside the booth made to look like an ice cream vending machine. Go on, you know you want to!
2. Deep fried donuts
Our second favourite on the list is a tiny stall on Harajuku’s trendiest street, Cat Street. The lady running the stall sells Coco-Agepan, traditional Japanese donuts deep fried in coconut oil. Agepan is sometimes translated as “bread roll” but we found that it tastes more like donut and less like bread. The traditional version is simply rolled in sugar, but you can get it rolled in kinako (soy bean powder), cocoa-sugar, and matcha (green tea) powder.
It’s heavenly, and for maximum impact you can add an amazing whipped cream topping made from soy milk. This version is called the Harajuku Special and well, it is special. Wash it down with some artisan coffee next door at single origin café The Roastery (Google Map).
The nearest subway stations are Harajuku Station on the Yamanote line and Meijijingu-mae Station on the Chiyoda and Fukutoshin subway lines.
3. Conveyor belt cakes
Conveyor belt sushi restaurants are popular not just in Japan but worldwide. A new all-you-can-eat café in Harajuku is taking the concept one step further and, instead of raw fish, it serves sweets and cakes on the small plates going round the conveyor belt. Customers at Café Ron Ron (Google Map) seated around the conveyor belt can pick and eat as many of the macaroons, small crêpes, roll cakes, jelly and other sweets as they wish in 40 minutes. Tickets from the vending machine outside cost ¥2400/1700 adults/children and include a drink. If you so wish, you could even have a full lunch here, as the café offers savoury items too, like mini burgers and chips.
The nearest subway station is Meijijingu-mae Station on the Chiyoda and Fukutoshin subway lines.
4. Pancakes and green tea ice cream
Our hotel in Shibuya was a few blocks away from a branch of Denny’s, and funnily enough, it became one of our favourite places for breakfast. The kids were delighted that they could have pancakes in the morning, while we were very happy with the Japanese breakfast options (fried salmon, rice, miso soup, and natto for the very brave). Denny’s also serves some lovely Japanese desserts such as matcha ice cream with rice balls and sweet red beans. And, of course, it’s open 24 hours, in case you want to eat pancakes for a late night snack.
Although it’s an American chain, the Japanese Denny’s branch we frequented wasn’t very American, apart from the booth-style seating and free soft drink top-ups. They offer both Western-style and Japanese dishes, made to a standard that’s considerably higher than an American branch, or several local family restaurant chains, for that matter. They have about a hundred branches all around Tokyo, so you’re never too far away from a Denny’s.
5. Free ice cream with karaoke
Who could refuse free, unlimited ice cream? Well, a karaoke place in Shibuya is offering just that. Upscale karaoke place Rainbow Karaoke on the eighth floor of the Shibuya Modi mall (Google Map) has an all-you-can drink plan including karaoke, unlimited soft drinks, and yes, unlimited soft serve ice cream. The plan costs ¥650 per half an hour and if you’re after a more substantial meal, you can order quite decent food from the in-room menus. The karaoke machines are multilingual and the rooms are spacious by Japanese standards, although oddly New York-themed. Rainbow Karaoke is open from 11am to 5am every day and the closest subway station is Shibuya.
If you’re in Shibuya Modi, don’t miss to check out Sawyer, the coffee-making robot. Downstairs, the Henn na Café inside H.I.S. travel agency has a robot barista, Sawyer making hot drinks. It’s not the best coffee you can get, but for ¥320 you can watch the robot take your empty cup, then make and serve your drink. Watch a video of Sawyer working here.