All you can eat in Shimokitazawa

We duck under a half curtained doorway into a raucous restaurant filled with Japanese couples who sit at a low bar surrounding the chef, cooking in the middle. Further out, groups of friends fill long tables, which are messy with bamboo jugs and stacks of plates. Removing our shoes at the door, we put them into a wooden cupboard, pronouncing the threshold with our feet. We step up onto the polished wooden floor and pad across to our table. 

The table is low and hovers over a foot well, into which we put our handbags and tired feet. For four thousand yen, we have unlimited jugs of sake, and rounds of plum wine, strawberry cocktails and beer. 'Sumimasen,' shout the diners, and are answered by trays of drink, steaming rice, fish and miso. 

This relay of dishes delivered to our table continues for over two hours. We try tofu the texture of cream cheese, which comes drizzled with syrup. Fish is cooked at the table before us, with a flame torch and a squeeze of lemon. There are very thin slices of beef, tempura prawns, tuna pate, and finally, ice cream is served in cones, each one upside down on a plate as if a child has dropped it. The table has the atmosphere of a birthday party, and diners continue to enter, well past midnight.