Burger Mania, Ebisu

On Saturday night I celebrated Burns Night, Scotland’s national festival, at Tokyo’s expat fortress, the Tokyo American Club. Managing to get a ticket to the event the day before by firing of a series of panicked emails I celebrated deep into the night with a room full of tartan-clad strangers, fuelled by a bottomless whiskey bar. Needless to say when I woke up on Saturday my face and mouth were drier than Steve Bannons flakey scalp.

After a bottle of melon Fanta I wandered down to Ebisu’s Burger Mania to soak up that wine/whiskey/lager combo swilling about in my system.


You can really tell when the wings are fresh and unfrozen. Burger Mania’s Buffalo wings arrived in front of me and threw off a sweet dry heat and hit the back of your throat like the fumes of a old bus, not in an unpleasant way. The sauce was very cayenne-heavy, again, not unpleasant but a bit one-dimensional. Blue cheese dip was unremarkable and came out of a bottle. 6/10.


Hooters, Shibuya

First stop on my inaugural Tokyo wing hunt was Hooters in Shibuya. My prior experience at Hooters in Tokyo was when I was interning at the British Embassy. It was very much an unpaid internship but with a fairly generous lunch allowance of ¥2000 per day. With a craving for Buffalo wings I borrowed an embassy bike and cycled down to the Akasaka hooters near to the Prime Minister’s official residence. Every 15 minutes the wait staff would perform a surreal synchronised dance with tables of salarymen politely clapping along. 40 minutes later I was submitting a receipt to the Embassy for a “Hooters Naked Platter” – naked because they are not breaded - a distinction my manager was less sure about, triggering a minor intra-embassy incident.



The Shibuya Hooters is a huge cavernous space bathed in orange light.  I always forget how terrifiyingly skimpy the wait staff’s outfits are. They really don’t leave much to the imagination. I had been expecting to share the restaurant with tables of braying Trumpland swampfolk but found the place empty save for a table of Northern European headbangers, some salarymen quietly enjoying glasses of the Hooters house red, and two middle schoolgirls making their  way through a vast portion of ribs.


The disparity in spice tolerance amongst human beings leads to dangerously inconsistent heat scales at restaurants. One crudely drawn picture of a chilli pepper can be the difference between a disappointing meal and a day ruined by weapons-grade Nashville fried chicken. My brother and I have therefore developed the “Beverly rule”, developed in the wake of a too-mild Korean hotpot at Beverly Soondofu in LA’s Koreatown. If you’re deciding between hot and very hot, ALWAYS take the hotter options, and ignore the protestations and warnings of the staff.  Haruka, our Hooters waitress was squeezed into an orange and white polyester sausage casing and was quite insistent . Stupidly we assented  to a plate of “hot”.


The wings had a good crisp to them, but the meat was very dry – clearly they had come out of the freezer. The sauce was a regulation Buffalo sauce but lacked tang. The blue cheese dip was a nice surprise, with big chunks of cheese swirling around the pot. One bugbear of mine, and an issue across all Hooters locations it seems, is their failure to remove the wing tip from the flat portion of the wing. Instead of being able to pull all the tender wing meat off the flat in one action I had to nibble around these sinister appendages. In spite of this prep-related failure we’ll give Hooters a solid 5/10.

Give Me Chicken Wings or Give Me Death

In 2016 Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle, a hawker stall in Singapore, became one of the first street food stalls in the world to win a star. There are now two ramen restaurants in Tokyo with a Michelin star also.

The relevance of Michelin stars is on the wane as chefs “reject” or “give back” their stars (a tricky manoeuvre as the Michelin Guide awards stars to restaurants not chefs). Chefs complain that having the stars slapped next to their name leaves diners expecting dry ice and fanfare, and attracts an ossified class of "big game diners", for whom a meal at a starred restaurant is akin to crossbowing a sedated elephant at close range.

A newer generation of gourmands is on the rise, who for the most part are turned off by the stifled, whispery, white tablecloth haute-cuisine complex. Michelin’s inclusion of street food is likely a bid by the Guide to maintain its relevance. Note that there are no hot dog stands, burger joints, kebab shops, sandwich stores, or wing bars with a star. Only Asian street food qualifies and the Michelin Guide seems to take a quasi-orientalist view of Asian food, playing into clichés about wizened old Asian men plying their craft for generations.


But I believe the humble Buffalo wing merits the same attention and criticism that countless food writers have poured into haute cuisine. The same applies for ramen, burgers, fried chicken, and all comfort foods. Some of the most entertaining food journalism right now is centred on late night eats and local fare.  


My mother hails from upstate New York, birthplace of the Buffalo wing, and as a child her homemade version with blue cheese dip was my favourite meal. Even today I can’t resist the siren call of the buffalo wing when it crops up on menus. I have dedicated my time, my gut, and my complexion to seeking out the world’s best. Living in London made this difficult enough, and now that I’m living in Tokyo the task gets even harder. Like the cursed Cain of the Old Testament I am doomed to wander this island to search for great wings that deep down I know do not exist. There is a sort of stark beauty to this pointless mission, like a monk retiring to a mountain cave to count snowflakes. Most of the time it is a thankless, Sisyphean task, the problem arising from the fact that chicken wings are a uniquely profitable menu item given how cheap the meat is, so many otherwise respectable restaurants will stick a god-awful wing on their menu to boost their margins. But every so often I am offered a glimpse of the sublime, great wings to share with friends over cold beer, that singe your lips and leave fluorescent orange sauce around your mouth and under your fingernails. On this blog I will record my attempts to find great wings, and share with you my favourite places.