Restaurants of the week
There’s a lot to love about Ao. For starters, it manages to combine the casual vibe of an izakaya with the thoughtfulness of kaiseki cuisine. Don’t get us wrong – it’s never rowdy. Instead, it’s an unassuming little neighbourhood restaurant whose cosy, homely atmosphere belies its modern yet relaxed approach to Japanese food. It’s hard to pinpoint an overarching concept guiding the food, except that it’s based on fresh, seasonal Japanese ingredients, interpreted through techniques from other cuisines. On one of our visits: a gazpacho that celebrated the local tomato season was paired with smoky grilled aubergine and scallop – it was tart and cold and it opened up our appetite for more. The deep-fried ‘maki’ was also an inspired creation, in which the rice was replaced by the delicate white flesh of pike conger and rolled with ume (plum) and Chinese yam. We also loved the grilled bamboo shoot wrapped in roast pork, as well as the homemade miso cream cheese. Ao’s menu is extensive, but the most popular dishes can be enjoyed on a six-course kaiseki- like menu (sashimi included), which gets refreshed monthly. What’s really surprising is that the menu is priced at only ¥3,400, which makes the restaurant even more endearing. For honest good food that's unpretentious and thoroughly enjoyable, this is quite possibly one of the best deals in town. The best part is, Ao closes only at 2am, meaning you can eat well when most restaurants have shuttered for the night.
The humble, ubiquitous gyoza is one of the most delicious snacks in Japanese cuisine. It’s commonly served as an accompaniment to ramen or as a quick and cheap meal – but if you’re looking for quality gourmet-style dumpling, this little joint near Iidabashi is the place to go. Okei has been in business for over half a century, and its chef-owner Hitoshi Umamichi makes some of the best gyoza around. The wrappers and fillings are still made by hand and with the original recipe that paved the way for the restaurant’s opening back in 1954. It’s the way gyoza should be: the skin is chewy on top and fried till golden and crispy at the bottom; the filling, a mix of Chinese cabbage, ground pork and garlic chives, are just dripping with juices. To savour the best of these gyoza, Umamichi recommends that you first try them as is before dipping them in a DIY soy-and-vinegar sauce mix (instructions for the perfect ratio are placed on the table). The restaurant’s recent induction into the Michelin Guide (it scored a Bib Gourmand rating) has brought long queues to its door, especially on Saturdays. Customers start lining up before the restaurant is even open, and the line can sometime stretches to the convenience store 60 metres away. All this to savour Okei’s daily stock of 1,440 gyoza that’s just enough for 240 people – and yes, they often sell out before closing time. For a full meal, we suggest you pair a plate of six dumplings (¥600) with a large bowl of their popular tanmen noodle
Commonly associated with sumo wrestlers looking to get a calorie-packed meal to bulk up for an upcoming match, and hungry diners seeking something warm during the cold months, nabe or Japanese-style hotpot also has a more refined side. Enter Negima, an unassuming restaurant in Kita-Ikebukuro, which specialises in Edo-style maguro (tuna) and negi (Welsh onion) nabe. Contrary to its big servings, the restaurant is tiny and only seats eight. Negima is inspired by nabe from the Edo era prior to the invention of refrigerators, when fresh produce especially fish couldn’t be kept for long. So folks back then had to use up the ingredients by dropping them all into a pot of flavourful dashi broth where everything would be cooked thoroughly. Nabe at Negima is served as a course meal. You start with an Edo-style tamagoyaki, or egg roll, which has been lightly seasoned with katsuo dash and shoyu. Pair it with sake and you’re off to a good start. Next, you’ll be presented with a beautiful platter of nabe ingredients before they are cooked inside a light dashi broth along with wakame seaweed and fresh greens. You’ll be able to sample various cuts of tuna, including the haramo (belly) and kama toro (gill flesh); they are both equally tender and elevated to another level with just a sprinkle of hand-crushed pepper. The thick slices of negi are cooked until soft and make for a refreshing relief between mouthfuls of tuna. To finish, you get to savour all that flavourful broth that’s been
This tempura specialist, which opened in 2017, is run by Akihiko Nakajima, who is a former apprentice of Tetsuya Saotome (owner of Mikawa Zezankyo, who is often dubbed as the master of tempura). The restaurant was originally a popular lunchtime spot as it offered a rice bowl heaped with ten pieces of shrimp tempura for just ¥650. As of summer 2018, Fukuan only serves a ¥3,500 dinner course for those eager to try a variety of seasonal tempura. The 12-item meal starts with Fukuan’s signature deep-fried breaded shrimp and concludes with a warm bowl of ochazuke. You may be surprised at how light the meal is from start to finish and it’s not the least bit greasy – all thanks to chef Nakajima’s skillful frying technique that adds a crispy layer to the ingredients without losing their natural texture and flavour.
A two week pop-up restaurant and bar by artist collective Chim↑Pom has just opened in Kabukicho. The restaurant will feature a menu devised from a list of last meals requested by death row prisoners, and display works by Austrian avant-garde artist Hermann Nitsch. The restaurant event also includes performances by BLACKSMOKER, KILLER - BONG, Fuyuki Yamakawa, Kairai bunch, Aida Makoto, Dengeki Network and more. Be sure to check the event schedule to know who’s performing when. Note: This is a one-off event, not to be confused with another restaurant in Kabukicho called Ningen Restaurant.
Peter X Artisan Chefs of Japan
The Peninsula Tokyo’s signature restaurant Peter is hosting four award-winning chefs for a special culinary series. These chefs come from acclaimed restaurants, which are amongst the toughest reservations to score in the city. They will be partnering with Peter’s chef de cuisine Masateru Kiriyama to create special lunch and dinner menus over four weekends starting in August. First up is chef Masayoshi Nishikawa from the two Michelin-starred Gion Nishikawa in Kyoto (Aug 31-Sep 1). He will be showcasing the sublime art of kaiseki haute cuisine while featuring Japan’s local and seasonal produce. Plus, you can expect a meal which engages all your senses. Chef Zaiyu Hasegawa takes over on Sep 28 and 29; he’s the chef-owner of two Michelin-starred Den in Tokyo, a restaurant which is also ranked No. 2 in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurant list for 2018. He will be serving a modern and creative take on kaiseki cuisine. Over the Oct 26 and 27 weekend, you can look forward to Chef Yoshiaki Takazawa’s complex and imaginative French-Japanese fashion dishes. His namesake restaurant in Tokyo has been named one of US Food & Wine Magazine’s World’s Top 10 Life-Changing Restaurants. The final installment, on Nov 30 and Dec 1, will be hosted by Chef Hiroyasu Kawate from Florilège in Tokyo. His restaurant has earned two Michelin stars as well as the No. 3 spot on the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2018 list. Expect locally-sourced Japanese produce and ingredients interpreted through classic French tech
Grand Halloween 2018
Grand Hyatt Tokyo is pulling out all the stops this autumn with a range of mouthwatering Halloween festivities throughout the month of October. Feast on a Halloween-inspired afternoon tea buffet at The French Kitchen featuring all sorts of spooky sweets and autumn desserts. Sample cookies shaped as fingers and 'eyeball' mousse, to classic pumpkin pie and a range of savoury items. If drinks are more your thing, head on over to The Oak Door for an array of colourful Halloween-themed cocktails and drinks. The Oak Door will be transformed into an eerie laboratory for the two weeks leading up to Halloween (October 19-31) fit with cocktails served in test tubes and beakers, as well as love potions and more. Dress up in your best costume and make the most of these chilling Halloween events.
After a two-year hiatus, the popular Kirby Café is coming back to Tokyo with their new spot located on the fourth floor of Skytree’s Solamachi shopping mall. Everybody’s favourite cute, pink, ever-expanding ball of joy first appeared in a Nintendo video game in the early 90s. Now, get ready to follow him on a culinary journey to Dream Land. The menu has something for everyone with their adorably designed dishes that are nearly too cute to eat. Sample the Whispy Woods plate (¥2,580) and the Kirby Soft-Strawberry Mousse (¥1,480) to bring back nostalgic vibes from the past. Most of the dishes and drinks come with a gift, which explains the higher price tag – think plates, figurines, coasters, and mugs. If your decision falls on a menu item that doesn’t come along with a souvenir, you can shop exclusive merchandise at the onsite shop. The café will be around until February 17, so if you want to make a reservation, visit here.
Veuve Clicquot Yelloween
Champagne brand Veuve Clicquot collaborates with French restaurant L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Roppongi Hills for its annual Halloween event. From October 1 you can dine in a spooky yet stylish atmosphere, and it will culminate with an actual Halloween party on October 26. The ¥15,000 participation fee seems kind of pricey, but considering the location and the fancy food menu with drinks included, it's not a bad deal.
Hot new openings
Sample a range of delectable dishes made from ingredients hand-picked by famous head chef Kazuki Saka at this new teppanyaki restaurant in Nihonbashi. Grab a seat at the counter where you can watch the chefs preparing your food right in front of your eyes. The grill menu sees mouth-watering wagyu steak, fresh prawns, sautéed scallops and much more. After you've finished your meal, move on over to the comfy sofa seats to end your visit with a cup of coffee and dessert.
Sapporo Natsume Nihonbashi
Sapporo’s famous sushi joint Natsume has finally graced Tokyo with its first branch in Nihonbashi. Lean back and enjoy quality cuts of sushi carefully prepared by the highly skilled chefs on hand. Choose from either table seats or private rooms, but we recommend taking a spot at the counter where you can watch the whole sushi making process right in front of your eyes. If you're short on time, you can also choose from their take-out menu.
Kinoko Ryori – Kinoko
Located right in the heart of Ebisu Yokocho, this cosy new restaurant specialises in all things mushroom. You won't be missing meat here with hearty items like the ‘big mushroom steak’ (¥1,500), the ‘shiitake UFO menchi katsu (breaded cutlet)’ (¥680) or the ‘Mushroom hot pot (for two)’. It's the perfect place to sit down and sample through Japan's large variety of mushrooms.
Dine on high-quality Japanese black beef at this new eatery in Nihonbashi where you can choose from ten different types of beef served as tender, juicy steaks. If you're not a big fan of steak, the large menu has something for everyone – order the 'Pound-ya Umami Meat Burger' complete with a homemade bun, or the 'Black Beef Gyoza' sure to satisfy any dumpling fiend. All the dishes are seasoned with herbs and spices, and go perfectly paired with a glass of natural wine.