UPDATE 2020.7.30: Ninja Shinjuku (and its sister store Ninja Akasaka) has been temporarily closed since April 8 2020 due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. The basement of Ninja Shinjuku reopened on June 22 as a new restaurant called Yakiniku Ajito, with delivery offered. Ninja Shinjuku itself is scheduled to reopen in spring 2021. (The Akasaka branch is slated to reopen in October this year). You can check the official website for more details.
From its highly-reflective glass facade next to the mega electronics store Yodobashi Camera, you would never suspect what lies inside. Or below, rather. Newly opened in 2017, Ninja Shinjuku is a theme restaurant located in west Shinjuku, and part of the Ninja World franchise. While the original and more famous Ninja Akasaka is themed right from the exterior, the Shinjuku branch chooses to truly do it ninja-style by blending into the surroundings of Shinjuku’s skyscraper district. Spotting the name printed on the glass walls was the only thing that stopped us from walking right past it.
The theme: hidden ninja mansion
Upon entry, a small souvenir store with an assortment of ninja-themed goods greets you. On your left a ninja-attired Pepper-chan robot welcomes you in different languages – he spoke Chinese to us. The other staff, a human female dressed entirely in black, will check your reservation and summon a ninja to guide you inside.
We had arrived 15 minutes early, so perused the souvenir store while we waited. Pepper-chan pelted Chinese greetings at us periodically, but finally did some ninja moves with this robot arms, and the wall behind him magically slid open! A ninja welcomed us and led us down a flight of winding stairs flanked by rocks: we were entering the underground ninja cave.
When we reached the bottom, a very cool bar unfolded before us, but we were taken into a private room. Inside, the decorations were just as immersive: a samurai armour, katana swords, shuriken coasters, and even a giant bell to ring to summon the staff.
The ninja fun doesn’t stop there. We hadn’t chosen a course and instead decided to order a la carte from the menu, in the form of a rolled-up scroll. We unfurled it but the elaborate Japanese names made it difficult to decipher, so we asked for an English menu. It also came as scroll, and the names were just as creative (albeit a little hilarious when translated). We spent about 30 minutes choosing dishes, in the end picking:
- Assorted smoked food with a Iga ware pot
- Japanese style paella of Iga and Koka rice and Koka trout
- Fried chicken hiding in earth by Ninja art*
- Iga Nincha pork belly braised in Iga sake
- Super-hot chilli shrimp curry with burning fort by Ninja fire attack*
The items with the short dagger icon on the menu (shown as * above) come with free “ninja entertainment”. What this means is that the staff will do something with the food before serving it. The shrimp curry was literally set on fire when it was set down in front of us. With the fried chicken dish, it literally looked like a pot plant when served. He told us to tip it over, and viola! Karaage chicken. Even the water came in a carafe that looked liked a stalk of bamboo. So cool, I kinda want one.
I had also covertly ordered a special dessert for two of our party members with birthdays in December. The restaurant’s famous “Heirloom Bonsai of magical sweets by Ninja art”. It looked exactly like the photo promised, completed with the requested chocolate message plate.
Taste-wise, it was all pretty good. In general, you shouldn’t expect much from the food at theme restaurants but Ninja Shinjuku seems to be a nice exception. They pride themselves in using class ingredients like Omi beef, one the top 3 beefs in Japan, and cooking with stone grill ovens. The shrimp curry was actually spicy, and the karaage, in the words of my friend, tasted like “chicken nuggets from McDonald’s”.
The only small negative was that the portions for some of the dishes were smaller than we thought, looking at the price. But given that the novelty and entertainment is included, it’s more than worth it.
In addition to the modest “ninja arts” served with selected dishes as described above, you are also treated to a personal magic show partway through the meal. Photos/videos are generally not allowed, so without giving too much away, let me just say it was very well done. From the surprise entrance, to the quality of the magic tricks, to getting us involved, we were all very tickled and impressed.
For JPY 7,000, you can also book a ninja transformation, where you can dress up as a ninja and take the costume home afterwards. And for another JPY 9,000, you can get transported to and from a professional photo studio for photo shoot in your ninja costume. Both these activities require prior booking at least 1 week in advance. However, unless you have children or are a die-hard ninja fan, the novelty of the restaurant itself and personal magic show should more than give you a unique experience.
Courses at Ninja Shinjuku start from JPY 4,000 per person, and go up to JPY 9,000 per person. The more expensive courses include Omi beef, which will set you back at least JPY 3,200 for 100g if ordered a la carte. If ordering purely a la carte, like we did, still expect to spend upwards of JPY 4,000 per person including a couple of drinks. The heirloom bonsai dessert actually cost the most as a single dish (JPY 2,400), but it was substantial enough to be split between the four of us.
Lunch set specials seem more value-for-money, and start from JPY 1,480 for a stone grilled steak set, which is very reasonable in my opinion.
Ninja Shinjuku is located 5 minute’s walk from the West Exit of JR Shinjuku Station. By subway, Marunouchi Line’s Shinjuku Station or Toei Oedo Line’s Shinjuku-Nishiguchi Station are pretty convenient too. The restaurant is located next to Yodobashi Camera and across from Starbucks.
Address: 東京都新宿区西新宿1-11-11 河野ビル1F&B1F
1F & B1F Kono Building, 1-11-11 Nishi-shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
It is open 11:30am – 3:00pm (L.O. 1:30pm) for lunch, and 5:00pm – 11:00pm (L.O. 9:00pm) for dinner.
How to make a booking
The easiest way to make a booking is via their official website (English available): Ninja Shinjuku Reservation Page. Free cancellations can be made up to 36 hours before your booked date. Due to business functions often being held in the venue (it is an izakaya after all), the restaurant has a policy that bookings with children cannot be made after 7pm on weeknights.
Final rating: Ninja Shinjuku
I rate Ninja Shinjuku: 10/10 for the immersive, ninja cave hideout interior, complete with hidden doors and aptly-dressed staff. We were all really impressed with how almost every element, from the shuriken-shaped coasters and scroll menu, was part of the theme.
Food: 8/10. Better than most theme restaurants, and really creative too. Some of the portions were smaller than we expected, but if ordering a course this probably won’t be an issue.
Customer service: 9/10. From the ninja-attired Pepper-chan robot to the magic tricks, the staff really went above and beyond to make sure we had a good time.
Cost performance: 8/10. A bit on the pricey side, but more than reasonable given that the entertainment is included and there is no table charge.
Great atmosphere, great entertainment and creative food. Plus it’s completely smoke-free. Ninja Shinjuku has become one of my favourite theme restaurants in Tokyo. Next time I want to try going at lunch to try their Omi beef hamburger or boar steak specials. If you do get a chance to visit too, let me know what you think!