By Ayuko Iwaki
Food trends tend not to be overly unpredictable, but this one actually managed to catch us off guard: the latter half of 2013 saw the proliferation of Tokyo restaurants specialising in game, with hunter-chefs treating adventurous gourmands to everything from deer and wild boar to duck and pheasant. Industry insiders tell us that deer meat in particular has become easier to find in recent years, as these graceful horn-heads are taking over depopulated areas in the Japanese countryside and creating more opportunities for hunters in the process. The five game-focused eateries listed below are great places to taste this low-fat, high-protein delicacy, along with other dishes using wild meat, all hunted and prepared by knowledgeable professionals.
This casual brasserie is loved by the stylish ladies of Mejiro, and often attracts said demographic in the form of medium-sized groups. The very reasonably priced dinner course (¥3,800) is the main attraction, particularly if you include the roast deer (an additional ¥500 at dinner), which is deliciously combined with a slightly sour raspberry sauce.
Located on a side street off one of Koenji's main shopping arcades, this small restaurant's focus quickly becomes obvious once one gets a good look at the over-the-top hunting-themed interior. The friendly and talkative owner personally hunts for the meat served here, which includes wild boar, deer, bear, and fowl. The reasonably priced menu ranges from stews, ham, and sausages to sashimi – try the raw deer (¥880) for a lighter taste, or go for the grilled boar (¥950) for a seriously meaty flavour.
There's no set menu at this tiny Oimachi eatery – leave it to the chef to catch fresh fish or hunt for some game, which is then prepared into a daily dinner course. Highlights include super-fresh sashimi, oysters, duck stew with veggies and shellfish, and deer curry, while the bar features a wide selection of nihonshu. The homely atmosphere and reasonable prices (¥5,000-6,000 per person for a dinner with drinks) make Yusai a worthy destination.
This izakaya in Itabashi's Shimura is decorated with mounted animals like deer and raccoons, trophies collected during the restaurant owner's 40 years of hunting. Nabe dishes are the main attraction, particularly the wild boar hot pot (¥1,700 for one person), which includes tofu, mushrooms, veggies, and roughly cut boar meat – a great choice for roaringly hungry eaters. Combine the hot nabe with some fine Niigata sake to keep the cold of winter away.
The meat for all game dishes (from ¥3,800) at this Jinnan brasserie come from collaborating hunters, who provide the restaurant with Honshu deer, Hokkaido bear, wild boar from southern Izu, and much more. The staff is happy to tell diners all about the origin of the meat and discuss menu changes, while the resident sommelier will recommend suitable wine combos. For an introduction to the world of game, try the pâté en croûte with bear, deer, and boar (¥3,000), while the bear steak (¥6,000) is perhaps the single most impressive dish available here.