At this hidden gem, you're in for a delicate and colourful meal prepared by an itamae with 15 years of experience in New York City (plus 13 in Japan, but he barely mentions it). Easy on the eye, uncompromisingly seasonal and ambitiously out-there in terms of flavours, chef Suzuki's cuisine feels almost underpriced – despite the fact you need to shell out a flat ¥10,000 (plus tax) for the omakase, the only option on the menu.
This deal is composed of ten or so seasonal dishes, which draw on influences from French, Italian and fusion styles while remaining very Japanese both in terms of technique and presentation.
From the moment you remove your shoes to walk on the tatami mats to your final morsel of fresh, briny-sweet crabmeat, Kitafuku is an exhilarating experience. A meal at this crab specialist, where the offerings vary from season to season, lasts at least two hours, which is the minimum time necessary for a live king crab (typically around 4-5kg) to be deshelled, systematically dismantled – leg by leg, claw by claw – and enjoyed in various ways: blanched, boiled, charcoal-grilled and sashimi. It doesn’t come cheap though – and if you’re not a big fan of crab, don’t even think about it – but it’s worth every yen for a unique and spectacular evening out.
At the heart of ritzy Ginza is a time warp to a simpler – and considerably less swanky – Tokyo. A convivial izakaya, Sanshuya has been delivering satisfying and surprinsingly affordable dishes since 1968. By mid-afternoon each day it’s full of Tsukiji market workers catching up over a drink, and it stays busy till closing.
It’s as unostentatious as it gets, with straightforward furnishings and communal tables, yet its old-school aesthetics are endearing – the menu items are listed individually on black and white signs hanging from the top of the kitchen counter like confetti. Meals at Sanshuya focus on produce from the nearby fish market, but be warned: Sanshuya becomes extra busy during winter’s oyster season, not least because its deep-fried oysters are legendarily good.
At Kondo, the art of tempura approaches an exact science. That a deep-fried vegetable can taste so light and fresh seems impossible – so stark is the contrast between one's usual understanding of food cooked in grease and the lightly battered, sesame oil-kissed creations conjured up by chef Kondo.
In fact, he refers to tempura as 'steamed cuisine', wrapping vegetables from across Japan and ultra-fresh Tsukiji seafood into a gentle hull of batter before giving them the hot treatment. One of Kondo's standouts is the sweet potato tempura, which is fried very gently in order to maintain its sweetness and served piping hot.
Rengatei sits quietly on gas-lit Ginza-dori, and has served traditional fare since 1895. At lunchtime, the place is packed with customers spilling out on to the street. This restaurant is believed to be one of the first in Japan to serve a Western-style menu; rice was first served on a plate here in the early Meiji era, when people preferred rice to bread. Popular dishes include pork cutlets, omurice, fried oysters, fried lobster and hashed beef with rice.
One of the quirkier ramen joints around, Ginza's Kazami has made a name for itself on the back of a very unlikely ingredient: sake lees. Found in a narrow alley, its stylish interior could pass for a high-end eatery if it wasn't for the exclusively noodle-focused menu.
The speciality here is the Sake Kasu Noko Soba (¥980), which features an additive-free flavourful soup made with chicken, pork, asari clams, oysters and high-end sake lees from Kyoto's Fushimi. Add thin noodles – another Kyoto import – plus superb char siu, slightly grilled abura-age, leek, spinach and an egg, and you have an aromatic bowl unlike any other.
Considered overpriced and inaccessible, Ginza’s yakiniku eateries don’t have the best of reputations among the capital’s price-conscious carnivores. But Cobau is an exception: with prix fixe deals starting from ¥9,180, it’s far from cheap, but the restaurant provides value with an impressive menu of rare, gorgeously plated kuroge wagyu cuts. One of the few places in Ginza that combines quality with variety, the chic restaurant also offers a wide range of non-yakiniku meat dishes, including Korean-style sukiyaki and simple nikomi stew.
One of Ginza's finest old-school eel restaurants, Chikuyotei is best known for its classic unadon (eel over rice) but also serves other fine seafood in ochazuke form (over rice, with tea poured on top) – just the way it used to be back in the early 20th century. Places like this are becoming increasingly hard to find in Tokyo, but this one doesn't look like it's going anywhere: there are even queues outside of the restaurant on some days.
Kyubey is one of those high-end sushi bars where the freshness of the seafood requires little embellishment; the garnishes and dressings complement rather than overpower. Here you take a seat at one of the fifteen spots around a counter and watch four itamae work with the precision of open heart surgeons.
This is the sushi bar of fantasies, where it’s not merely the itamae’s craft that is well-honed. Paying the bill is done discreetly and swiftly on departure by the kimono-clad waitresses; perfect for business entertaining and special treats.
Founded in 1902, Shiseido Parlour is a pioneer of Japanese-style Western cuisine (yoshoku), ie omu-rice, croquettes and the like. At the restaurant, one menu item that's sure to raise eyebrows is the extravagant curry rice topped with lobster and abalone, and it includes the chef flambéing them at your table. Of course, it's quite a luxurious dish that will set you back around ¥10,000 (plus a service charge).
Meanwhile, the third-floor café specialises in sweet treats such as old-school ice cream soda (popular for well over a century now, we hear) and fruit parfaits, including an indulgent strawberry version that contains enough milk and ice cream to make a lactose-intolerant person break a cold sweat at first sight.
Tucked away in a lesser known part of Ginza, grill specialist Ibaia seats only 20 and is practically always full. Regulars keep coming back for dishes like hirekatsu – a thickly cut Australian beef fillet that’s coated in breadcrumbs mixed with herbs and garlic, baked until golden and served in a rich tomato, red wine and port reduction. Another standout is the heart skewers: two sticks stacked with three large cow hearts each are grilled over charcoal until slightly charred, then topped with paprika, diced shallots and fresh green jalapeños.
But don’t be fooled: Ibaia isn’t only for carnivores. Sourced daily from the owner’s family farm in Saitama, the vegetables here are turned into special side dishes that rotate weekly. A perfect complement to the heavy meats, these veggies are a cut above your average limp bistro salad. Bookings are required and taken a month in advance.
In upmarket Ginza, Renge occupies a small, unassuming space on the ninth floor of Ginza 745 – all you see here is an open kitchen with counter seating and a few small tables. What’s not basic here is the food – perhaps just as Hidetoshi Nishioka intended, for his Shanghai-influenced tasting menu truly takes centre stage.
Chef Nishioka has had an eclectic career, starting as a Japanese pastry chef before working in Italian, Spanish, Japanese and Chinese restaurants. But it is Chinese cuisine that he has mastered: the dishes at Renge divert confidently from Shanghai orthodoxy, with Nishioka’s diverse background evident on the plate. The restaurant is only open for dinner and it offers a tasting menu of around 12 courses.
Poke your head through the door of this popular restaurant and you’ll surely swoon. A mingling of Indian spices fills the air, colourful carpets hang from dark blue walls, the floors are tiled and turquoise, and south Indian music at a low volume helps create a tranquil, almost meditative vibe. It’s an alluringly romantic environment – but it doesn’t come close to upstaging the food.
The chefs, lured to Tokyo during recruitment sessions in the Indian states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, produce magnificent south Indian cuisine, including a near-legendary masala dosa. You'll be glad to know that the staff insist that they don’t dilute the authentic spiciness of South Indian cooking for Japanese palates.
Eat better in Tokyo
From sushi to yakitori and gyoza, here are the best places to eat in Shibuya, including the 'hoods of Daikanyama, Harajuku and Yoyogi
These restaurants serve some of the best deep-fried pork cutlets in Tokyo
Grilled chicken on skewers, or yakitori, is a quintessential Japanese soul food. And these restaurants serve up some of the city's best