Once while private cheffing for a Japanese executive, my client asked me to make him a “hamba-gu”. I heard “hamba-ga-” an American-style hamburger. I went to Whole Foods and picked up some ground beef and buns. Later that evening when I presented the hamburger he laughed, in a good way. He said (in Japanese), “Yukari-san, I said hamba-gu not hamba-ga-“. Wow, was I embarrassed. I asked him to give me some time and I went back to the kitchen and made a Japanese-style hamba-gu. Japanese burgers, “hamba-gu” often are mixed with onions, eggs, milk, and bread, making it like meatloaf. The Japanese burger is often served with rice. He loved it, and, I loved the original hamburger that I made for him.
And here, you see the predilections of a Japanese when it comes to hamburgers. For many Japanese they are happy with a meatloaf like hamburger. Which is why, whenever I have a hamburger at a Japanese restaurant I always clarify if the burger is 100% ground beef or if it is a Japanese-style burger. If it’s the Japanese-style I go back to the menu and order something else. Why? Because I much prefer the burgers I grew up with in Minnesota.
Which, is why I was thrilled when I heard about Martiniburger. It was covered in some Japanese magazines when it first opened. And then Robbie Swinnerton’s article in The Japan Times confirmed for me that this is what I was craving.
Martiniburger is on the quiet back streets of Kagurazaka, away from the crowds on the main Kagurazaka Dori. About a three-minute walk from Kagurazaka station on the Tozai line. It’s a sleek restaurant, with floor to ceiling windows that showcase the dramatic bar and clean lines of the restaurant.
Eliot Bergman, a former graphic designer, now restaurateur, has his fingerprints on the restaurant, from the cool bar to the menu with photos of food. He also has good taste in music. When I asked Eliot about the music he said, “we play a wide mix of vintage and contemporary blues and jazz, including a number of New York artists, as well”. Which explains why I felt like I was back in New York City.
I asked him where he got inspiration for Martiniburger. He said it was from “when he was living in New York City and enjoyed the cocktails and burgers from P.J. Clarke’s”. P.J. Clarke’s is an institution in Midtown known not only for its burgers, but also its steaks. This all makes sense when the burger is presented, complete with creamed spinach and Béarnaise sauce.
The signature burger, the Martiniburger, is as I love it, 100% beef, from Australia, and with a good sear on the outside. It’s also served on an English muffin, which is how I remember my first New York City hamburger in Greenwich Village. (Coming from the Midwest I remember thinking how brilliant to put a burger on an English muffin and started making my burgers like that back at home.) Other offerings come on custom-baked buns. The creamed spinach and mashed potatoes also remind me of home. To top it off, a slice of Oreo New York Cheesecake, which is not too sweet, and also a dessert you don’t see too often in the metropolis.
Bergman has said that he wanted to do something different with his restaurant, so he’s not serving any French fries. He said that the clientele, mostly Japanese, are fine with it. If anyone isn’t happy with it, it’s usually an American.
Martiniburger is open from Tuesday – Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sundays 11:00 a.m. to 10 p.m. Bergman says that it is a neighborhood restaurant with many coming from the area offices for lunch or after work. On weekends it is not uncommon to see kids and strollers as it is a kid-friendly shop.
It’s one of Tokyo’s best burgers. Now, if Bergman would only open Martiniburger around Tokyo. Maybe on the Chuo line, please?
There is Brooklyn Lager on tap, another great taste of New York City. What more could a person want, except for maybe some French fries?
The menu is well designed, easy to read, and includes lots of colorful photos.
I came for a late lunch, but can only imagine how lovely this bar must be at night.
The colorful and brightly lit interior is inviting. Seating is comfortable, making it easy to linger over dessert and coffee.
Shinjuku-ku, Nakazatocho 31
11:00 – 23:00 (until 22:00 on Sundays)
opened in October 2010
closest station: Kagurazaka on the Tozai Line