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Yamawarau - cropped2/3
Photo: yama-warau.jp
Shabu Shabu Let Us3/3
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Best shabu-shabu hotpot in Tokyo

Warm up from the cold with shabu-shabu, the classic Japanese hotpot dish featuring premium wagyu beef, pork and more

By Jessica Thompson
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Shabu-shabu is one of Japan’s classic hotpot dishes and has plenty going for it. It’s a fun DIY meal, and it’s social, often involving a group gathering around a single pot. It’s often considered a relatively healthier meal compared to deep-fried tonkatsu and tempura – and it’s a great way to try premium Japanese wagyu beef and kurobuta (black) pork at reasonable prices. 

A shabu-shabu meal unfolds as so: a hotpot of a light broth is placed at the centre of the table while the waitstaff bring out plates of paper-thin meat and accompanying ingredients like vegetables, bean noodles and tofu. Using chopsticks, you swish the ingredients through the broth to the perfect point of tenderness, then dip them in one of the sauces, which usually include a goma-dare (sesame sauce) and ponzu (citrus and soy sauce), before eating. It’s simple: swish, dip, eat and repeat. 

The lines between Japan’s various hotpot dishes, namely shabu-shabu, nabe and sukiyaki, may seem blurred at first, but they do have their unique characteristics. One thing they do have in common: they are all a comforting dish to warm you up in the cooler months. Here’s a round-up of some of the great shabu-shabu restaurants in Tokyo.

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Kobori

Restaurants Hot pot Akasaka

Shabu-shabu with a sashimi starter

Since most diners at Akasaka's Kobori are regulars, entering this hotpot palace might seem a bit intimidating at first. But once inside, you're sure to shake off any apprehension: it's a homely, relaxing space with simple furniture and a friendly, jovial hostess. To start, she'll bring you a platter of seafood bought the same morning. This spread functions as an appetiser menu: pick anything you fancy and ask the chefs to prepare it to your liking, be it in sashimi form, boiled or grilled. As for the main attraction – wagyu shabu-shabu and sukiyaki – you can look forward to luxuriously thick cuts and 'secret' ponzu and sesame sauces to dip your meat in. 

Shabu Shabu Let Us
Shabu Shabu Let Us
Photo: fb.com/277151892787509

Shabu Shabu Let Us

Restaurants Nakameguro

All-you-can-eat shabu-shabu

What this restaurant really excels at is taking shabu shabu and all-you-can-eat dining, both usually only available to groups (well, at least two persons), and making it enjoyable even to solo diners. Here, each diner gets their own pot – whether you’re alone at the counter or sitting together at the table. And the best part is, Shabu Shabu Let Us is all about variety. The soup stock choices go beyond the standard dashi to include a wide range of flavours from mild (creamy soy milk, Takumi’s kelp and green tea, etc) to spicy (Sichuan-style mala hot pot, spicy Korean, etc). The sauce and condiment bar gets an upgrade too, with unconventional dips such as sriracha sauce, truffle oil and mala sauce featuring alongside the standard sesame, miso and ponzu sauces.

Lunch is a great deal, as the restaurant offers sets ranging between ¥1,000 and ¥2,000 (depending on your choice of meat). Dinner, on the other hand, is a two-hour all-you-can-eat affair, with prices starting from ¥2,800.

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Yamawarau
Yamawarau
Photo: yama-warau.jp

Yamawarau

Restaurants Harajuku

For the solo diner

Shabu-shabu is traditionally one of the most social of Japanese cuisines. Yamawarau turns this model on its head completely. Having debuted here in Omotesando and now with another branch in Ginza, the restaurant is tailored to make solo shabu-shabu a comfortable experience (although small groups are welcome too). Yamawarau actually goes beyond mere comfort its sleek interior features muted tones, with seating around a spot-lit oval counter made from natural wood and featuring single-serving nabe pots. Equal care goes into the sourcing of meats and vegetables (the black sirloin is a highlight), with both lunch and dinner courses on offer (from ¥1,450 and ¥2,900 respectively), plus a la carte options in the evening.

しゃぶしゃぶKINTAN 代官山本店
しゃぶしゃぶKINTAN 代官山本店
Photo: Shabu Shabu Kintan Daikanyama

Shabu Shabu Kintan Daikanyama

Restaurants Hot pot Ebisu

City-wide yakiniku purveyors Kintan have decided to switch up their repetoire a tiny bit with this new shabu-shabu restaurant smack in between Ebisu and Daikanyama Stations. Their speciality is a range of rare wagyu cuts and beef tongue, to be paired with five different types of sauce. Usual yakiniku favourites such as sirloin, shoulder cuts, chuck (shoulder), harami, top round and rump are all available for shabu-shabu as well. There are also a good 15 different vegetable varieties to choose from and dunk in the broth alongside your meat. And if you're feeling decadent, be sure to try the Kintan truffle rice for ¥1,280 per person.

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zakuro
zakuro
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Zakuro (Nihonbashi)

Restaurants Japanese Nihonbashi

Premium wagyu shabu-shabu

The attention to detail and fine service at Zakuro make it the perfect spot to gather some friends and enjoy a night of quality dining in a traditional setting. What really sets Zakuro apart from other shabu-shabu restaurants is the ornate copper nabe (cooking pots), which have been especially handcrafted for the restaurant and in use for over 60 years. Charcoal is used to heat the dashi (stock), and the two traditional shabu-shabu dipping sauces, sesame and ponzu, are made in-house. The spicy sesame sauce enhances the delicate, creamy slices of wagyu with umami richness while the ponzu bursts with citrusy freshness as the tender wagyu melts in your mouth.

Yasai-ya Mei Ueno

Restaurants Hot pot Ueno

For vegetable lovers 

Try shabu-shabu without the meat at this veggie-centric restaurant inside Ueno's Sakura Terrace. Using produce sourced directly from farmers across the country, Yasai-ya serves up fresh veg that tastes just as good when boiled in a savoury hotpot as it does with the homemade bagna càuda sauce. If you're in the mood for a chat, sit around the central counter, watch your food being prepared and listen to the chefs discuss the finer details of ingredients and preparation methods. Full veggie courses at dinner start from around ¥4,000.

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Dashishabu Obanzai Okaka Shinjuku

Restaurants Hot pot Shinjuku

Fresh dashi shabu-shabu

The main attraction at this Shinjuku eatery is the soup stock, made with freshly shaved bonito, which is perhaps best enjoyed in its namesake dashi shabu. All the ingredients in this flavourful take on shabu-shabu are freshly made or cut to order, so you'll reap the best of the crop. Other highlights include a range of all-you-can-eat veggies from daikon and lettuce to burdock and kujo negi, house-made dashi tofu and the delectable Okaka potato salad.

Ginza Shabutsu

Restaurants Japanese Ginza

For more than 20 years, Ginza Shabutsu has been a local favourite for shabu-shabu (Japanese hotpot), thanks to its fresh ingredients and excellent value for money. At lunch, ¥880 will get you a plate of finely sliced pork, beef, duck or beef tongue; a combination of two is ¥930. The staff will fire up your pot of light chicken broth, then bring you your banquet: a plate piled high with tofu, cabbage, carrots and bean noodles; an array of condiments like ponzu (citrus and soy dipping sauce) and the signature sesame sauce made from no fewer than 20 ingredients; your selected meat; and a bowl of steamed rice. To eat, swish the ingredients through the boiling stock until they’re cooked.

At dinner, courses start from ¥3,100.

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