The best of 2017
Tonkatsu (breaded and deep-fried pork cutlets) ranks high on the list of Japanese soul food. At Ponchi-ken, a humble Ogawamachi eatery that's earned a Bib Gourmand honour from the Michelin guide two years running now, perfectly crunchy pork loin cutlets (rosu katsu) draw enthusiasts from all across Japan. So you’re bound to be looking at a long, salaryman-heavy queue come lunchtime, but the wait is worth it. The first bite is crispy, but you’ll soon feel the juices from the lean Okinawan-bred pork hit – the rest is pure bliss.
At 33, Daiki Ishida owns and operates Shinpaku as a one-man show, but he’s passionate about the team of fishermen, processors and others running in the 'relay' that ultimately results in him handing a dish to a customer. Since 2014, Ishida has sought to reforge this often forgotten connection through education and phenomenal dining at his Hiroo restaurant. Every dish is accompanied by an explanation of the process behind it, with Ishida often passing around a tablet holding videos of his suppliers preparing the fish. Dinners are limited to eight lucky patrons, can last four to seven hours, and are completely in Japanese.
For fans of seafood, this tiny Arakicho restaurant has become a place of pilgrimage. It’s almost impossible to get a seat without booking months in advance, and that’s because Chef Kato – who regularly works 100+ hour weeks in his pursuit of perfection – does magical things with crabs and prawns. The latter, prepared as sashimi, is extraordinary: the crustaceans from Yamaguchi prefecture, glimmer translucently on the ceramic tableware, are accompanied by octopus sashimi and wasabi. His crab cakes, livened up by citrus fruit and a fragrant seaweed broth, are equally subtle and complex in flavour.
Yakitori: It's cheap, dirty and needs to be washed down with copious amounts of ice cold beer, right? For the most part, that’s how it should be. However, if you're ready to try the refined side of the grill, then enter Yakitori Imai. Owner and grill master Takashi Imai opened his stylish thirty-seat, counter-style joint in November 2016 and has been reinventing skewered chicken through his considered approach. Imai's philosophy is reflected in the dinner menu. It starts with a delicate chicken liver pate served on a crusty baguette before moving on to a leafy seasonal salad, the chef’s selection of six skewers and the grilled vegetables of the day. Each yakitori skewer is personally seasoned by the chef to match the mood of the customer. Taking notes on what you're drinking, the weather and even your personality, Imai carefully makes a judgement of how to best season each skewer.
Kappo Ise Sueyoshi in the heart of Tokyo is ideal for enjoying the four seasons of Japan on a plate. Overseas visitors are falling over themselves to get a reservation at the small spot, which has only five seats at the counter and six tables. Tanaka's dishes display a rich experience with and deep understanding of the ingredients, conveying not only the passing seasons but also the scenery and traditional flavours of Japan.
Get ready to queue for your bowl of tempura over rice, but the wait will be more than worth it. It’s tempura perfection: light batter, golden and crisp, encases precisely and perfectly cooked seafood. Two shrimp, diced squid, a remarkably large white fish and a nori sheet, all dressed with a moreish tentsuyu sauce just before serving. The rice is also perfectly textured and delicately aromatic. The standard-sized portion costs ¥950; only ask for the large (omori) portion if you’re really hungry. The miso soup costs an extra ¥120, but it’s really worth it; intensely savoury with umami, it’s the misoshiru of dreams.
Chef Taichi Hara and pâtissier Yuichi Goto teamed up to open Path and the duo’s bistro-café has already become a sensation in Shibuya’s Tomigaya. After a spell together at the Hyatt Regency hotel’s Cuisines Michel Troisgros, Hara left to open Bistro Rojiura in Shibuya, while Goto went on to become the first Asian chief pâtissier at Troisgros’s flagship restaurant in France. Reunited, they’ve ditched the formal white tablecloths and starched chef’s coats and made Path a laidback delight. The perfect hangout before or after a day out in Yoyogi Park, Path serves breakfast and brunch – including their famous, super-fluffy dutch pancake – from 8am to 2pm. At night, you get to pick from natural wines, Kyoto-made craft beer and rare liqueurs to complement the beautifully plated food, all in a delightfully laidback atmosphere.
Shunkoutei doesn’t stray far from the tried-and-tested, meat-heavy yoshoku (Japanese interpretation of ‘Western’ food) formula – cutlets, steaks, stews and various fried items. The difference here is the quality produce – top-notch Aussie and Japanese beef is used, as well as the upmarket setting and increased emphasis on presentation. The cooking of Chef Koga, who trained in both France and Japan, is best epitomised by his hanbagu – a crumbly, seriously juicy Hamburg steak made with onion, egg and breadcrumbs, and served with broccoli, green beans and roast potatoes. Elsewhere on the menu you’ll find elements of French, German, British and American cuisine, all lost in translation to varying degrees, and all seeking to be dipped or doused in a multicultural condiment combo of Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard, wasabi, soy sauce and gravy.
For most gyoza fans, the dumplings are meant to be washed down with beer – but the good folks at this hip Aoyama joint are going against the grain, and pairing theirs with wine. Both their meat and vegetable gyoza are made without any garlic, which apparently makes them supremely vino-friendly. Excellent homemade sauces with flavours such as Provence herb and white miso add to the French fusion feel, while dishes such as ‘onion gratin gyoza’ further blur the culinary borders.
This ramen shop specialises in soup made from sea bream, known as madai in Japanese. Inside, the space is somewhat cramped with a mere eight counter seats, but the ramen sure exceeds expectations. The sea bream is sourced directly from Tsukiji every day, and the thin whole-grain noodles, the char siu with yuzu touches that's smoked over sakura wood and the komatsuna toppings are all beautifully simple and elegant. If all that fishy broth is too much for you, try the Noko Madai (rich red snapper) Ramen, which, contrary to expectations, is actually the broth from their signature Madai ramen mixed with a clear chicken broth.
More from Love Tokyo Awards 2017
Our nominees this year make up a varied list; in it you'll find 2017's hit products, cool fashion trends, functional items you never thought you needed, new toys and delicious treats.
Time Out Tokyo's annual Love Tokyo Awards is all about celebrating the best of the city. Here are the winners in five main categories: Restaurant, Bar, Café, Shop and Product. On top of that, we have also selected four essential activities of the year and five outstanding personalities who have made a big impact on Tokyo in 2017.