There are cheaper places to get pasta in Tokyo – like Saizeriya and Pronto, but if our meal choices were based on maximum cheapness, then you’d be standing outside the convenience store with a cup noodle. The great thing about La Boheme is that it’s immaculately produced and you also get fantastic Japanese service thrown into the mix.
The regular menu is kind of standard – what you’d expect from any Italian place in Tokyo – pasta and pizza. However, for Cheapos, La Boheme is a lunch destination, so your choices will be from the lunch menu and the lunch menu is 100% spaghetti. Prices for a plate of spaghetti range from 600yen for the Japanese favourite – karashi mentaiko (a marinated roe of pollock) and nori (seaweed) through to 950yen for the salmon and spinach with a cream sauce. Other toppings/types include melanzane (tomato and eggplant) for 650yen, steamed chicken for 750yen, shrimp and aojiso (a Japanese herb) for 800yen as well as carbonara, desperato (like a bolognese with chillies) and shimeji mushrooms.
For an extra 150yen, you get a ‘lunch set’ which includes a decent sized salad and a bowl of soup as well as unlimited access to the self-serve drink bar. The drink bar includes hot and cold tea, coffee, juice, soft drinks and on certain days red and white wine. Yes, you read that correctly – unlimited wine for 150yen! This does vary slightly from store to store. When I went to the Ginza store (pictured below) they only offer the wine on Mondays and Tuesdays. Others may offer it from Monday to Friday. As with most ‘lunch sets’, none of this applies on the weekend so if you turn up for lunch on a Saturday, expect to order ala carte from the weekend menu and to pay for your drinks.
On this particular trip to La Boheme, I went for the shrimp and aojiso. As usual, the spaghetti (note not fresh like Via Mama) was cooked al dente and the toppings were tasty – nothing to write home about though. As I mentioned in the intro, La Boheme is about the experience. Global Dining – the company that runs La Boheme – is renowned for producing unique decors and not skimping on the experience. The kitchens of many branches are located righ in the middle of the store, so you see all the steam, flames and activity going on while you enjoy your meal. It’s also obvious from the service that there are fewer of the minimum wage part timers you’ll see at other low price establishments. The staff at every branch I’ve been to seem to genuinely enjoy their job and want you to enjoy your experience as well. When I used to frequent the Kita-Aoyama branch, the manager asked to exchange business cards, saw us off each time by following us out to the street and bowing and then followed up with an email to say thank you for visiting their store. All this after we spent about 800yen each!
My only criticism of lunch at La Boheme is also one of its strengths – the menu rarely changes. Although they do have a ‘pasta of the day’ which seems to last for more than a few days.
Although the menu is fairly standard across all the stores, there are some variations depending on the location and some more unique architecture and decor at a few of the stores. Of particular note are the store in Shirokane which is located in a unique looking building with a terrace facing a tree lined avenue. The branch in Minami-Aoyama is also quite different – the chequer board dance floor and the disco ball provide a rather surreal lunch environment. Although I haven’t dined there, the branch next to Shibjuku-Gyoen also looks really interesting with very high ceilings and a mezzanine.