JamRock Cafe, Harajuku
If you’re looking for authentic Jamaican food in a casual setting, look no further than JamRock Cafe in Harajuku. Not only is it a prime location, perched on the fourth floor of a building just steps from Takeshita Dori, but it’s also the ideal spot to sample a variety of homemade dishes from the Caribbean island. Strongly recommended by a few Jamaican friends who claim this is the only place to get the real deal, JamRock is already well known around Tokyo, despite having been around for only four years.
Just let chef-owner Yvonne Goldson cook you up some of her staple dishes, and kick back and enjoy the friendly and relaxed atmosphere. She suggested we start with some typically Jamaican cocktails, so we picked the classic planter’s punch (a mix of Myers’s dark rum and grenadine) and a tasty, refreshing non-alcoholic drink made of pineapple juice, ginger juice and a hint of lime. Coconut water-based cocktails are also a favored option, and the simple aperitif of Appleton rum and coconut water can make for a delectable start.
For starters, Yvonne served us a jerk chicken Caesar salad (¥600), which was done to perfection: a creamy dressing and generous strips of jerk chicken, the cooking in the traditional way by marinating meats in a mixture of Jamaican jerk spice. In addition to chicken, JamRock also offers jerk beef steak, fish and even tofu, which is a great vegetarian option.
We then moved on to Escovitch fish (¥880), served with a side of warm and filling festival bread (¥100 a piece), a typical, lightly sweetened corn bread fritter. Escovitch fish is also a staple in Jamaican cuisine, combining fried fish and sautéed peppers and onion in a spicy, vinegar-based sauce.
Continuing with the jerk theme, we also tried the spicy jerk conch, a cool-water shellfish, served with a side of rice and peas. The spiciness of the conch, paired with the coconut, garlic and thyme rice assured a flawless balance and kept us from reaching out too often for the glasses of water. Having finished our cocktails, we ordered the pervasive Red Stripe beer (¥800), which you shouldn’t miss if you eat Jamaican food.
Our stomachs filled with Yvonne’s home-cooked, hearty yet healthy cuisine, we didn’t think we could handle any more food, but we got tempted by the dessert menu. We tried the grapenut ice cream, homemade on the premises and a true delight for the senses. But the pièce de résistance was undoubtedly the heavenly rum and raisin cheesecake (¥550), which got us thinking people in Harajuku should be lining up for that dessert instead of popcorn and pancakes. Yvonne uses Appleton rum for the dessert, and the strong flavor really stands out. If you make it to JamRock, make sure you save some room for that cheesecake, as we’re still dreaming about it weeks after we consumed it.
We loved not only the freshness of the ingredients and home-cooked feel, but also the relaxed vibe, complete with reggae music in the background, which made it difficult to leave the place. JamRock also offers affordable and substantial lunch sets (¥980 to ¥1,080), along with free drink refills. Other popular dishes at JamRock are the curries (goat, shrimp, chicken, beans), Jamaica’s national dish of ackee and saltfish, and of course oxtail served with butter beans.
The patties (¥500) also deserve a special mention: Yvonne makes these meat-filled pastries by hand at the restaurant, and as it’s the only place in Japan serving the ubiquitous Jamaican dish, they usually run out quickly, so make sure you get your hands on some when you can.
We will definitely be back to JamRock, which somehow reminded us of visiting home because of the friendliness of the staff and other guests, the convivial mood, and homemade fare.
Address: 4F ATM Bldg., 1-21-15 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Open: Tue-Sun, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5-11 p.m.; closed Mon.
View Larger Map