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 ¥3,740, which makes the restaurant even more endearing.