Pepper Lunch, Shibuya

Yesterday at lunch I let our esteemed leader Sam determine our choice of food. His selection was a place called Pepper Lunch. I’ve walked past the Pepper Lunch in Akihabara lord knows how many times over the past few years, but it looked kind of… not iconically Japanese. So I’ve always passed it by in favor of curry, ramen, sushi, that sort of thing.

Silly me! Turns out Pepper Lunch is extremely Japanese. We stopped at the one in Shibuya beneath the Yamanote rail bridge, and it’s absolutely the sort of place you only see here in Japan. Despite being a steak restaurant, even. You make your meal selection via vending machine ticket, customizing your order by purchasing specific tickets, and hand your tickets off to the wait staff. A few minutes later, they bring you your customized order. I guess it’s kind of like vender cafes in New York, but somehow more idiomatic to Japan.

In the case of Pepper Lunch, that idiom spans a very specific choice of skillet-fried steaks. They also really like corn here, offering not only a portion of corn with each steak selection but also selling it as a side and in the form of a corn soup. I’m not really sure where the “pepper” part of Pepper Lunch comes into play, but maybe “pepper” is code for “corn” here.

Your meat is delivered to the table uncooked, but that’s OK because it’s served on an insanely hot skillet with a pair of tongs to allow you to flip the meat chunks for even cooking. Each meal option is a different cut and comes with different sides — mine included corn (of course), a couple of carrot pieces, some thin slices of garlic, and a very lonely green bean. The meat is served with a generous dab of seasoned butter sitting on top, which melts as you flip the meat and makes the food dangerously delicious. Well, I say “dangerously,” but I eat beef and eggs and other similar foods so rarely that my cholesterol is epically low; you could double it and I’d still be in the healthy cholesterol range. So I dug into my rare indulgence of butter-soaked beef with gusto.

Like most Japanese fast food I’ve experienced, Pepper Lunch’s servings are pretty horrifyingly unhealthy, but the high fat and cholesterol content are mitigated by the small portions. Of course, like curry restaurants, you can choose to overeat to your poor straining heart’s content, but I find the smallest portions (“diet” portions, intended to be eaten by office ladies watching their weight) are almost always enough to satisfy.

I don’t imagine Pepper Lunch is the sort of place I’ll eat often, but it was surprisingly delicious. I’d even regret having passed it up all these years if not for the fact that in doing so I usually end up at someplace like the crazy chirashi restaurant on Chuo-dori I discovered last year. Basically I guess what I’m saying is that when I’m in Japan, and I eat food, I go away happy.