I don’t think I’ve ever eaten more in such a short period of time as I have in the 4 ridicously decadent days I’ve just spent in Tokyo. Because most of my recent travel has been either alone or with colleagues, and has been primarily for business, I had kind of forgotten what travelling with my darling wife S was all about, i.e. food, food, pastries and more food. And while I do try to squeeze in as many good meals as possible during business trips, eating overseas with S is a whole other animal. It means eating like a hobbit: breakfast, second breakfast (usually pastries), lunch, afternoon tea (more pastries), and dinner, all of which is punctuated by whatever odd and exciting nibble we might stumble across. By our last day in town, my usually iron-clad stomach was feeling a tad sensitive — obviously a reaction to the sheer amount of rich food I had forced it to process. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. I enjoyed every single bite. I just need to remember to pick up some antacids in Los Angeles.
Below is a list of the places that S and I especially enjoyed visiting. Please note that by no means is this meant to be a proper Tokyo guide. It’s simply the places we went to on this most recent visit.
Visiting one of Sadaharu Aoki’s salons was one of the two things S had told me were at the top of her must-do list for Tokyo. She had read so much about him and has been dying to try his pastries for years. We visited his Midtown salon twice and his Ginza branch once. Everything we tried was lovely. We were both floored by the first taste of his salted caramel tart. But our favourite items were his eclairs. We tried 4, which I have listed in order of my own preference: yuzu, green tea, black sesame and cassis. I would love to be able to have one of his yuzu or green tea eclairs weekly. Both of us can’t wait to visit his Paris branches in just a few weeks.
The Midtown branch is unit 13 in the basement.
Yoroizuka makes beautiful pastries and the long lines at his Midtown salon attest to his popularity. While I personally prefered Aoki’s desserts, these were very tasty and very pretty. If you can spare a half an hour (because that’s how long you’ll be in line), definitely give these a try. Tokyo Minato-ku Akasaka 9-7-2
Tokyo Midtown east B-0104
Going to Sugino was the other must-do on S’ list. This cult pastry chef turns out some of the most beautiful and ethereal cakes on the planet. He has only one branch in Tokyo and getting in requires a ton of patience. We had been forewarned to get there by 930am (the shop is supposed to open at 10am). By the time we arrived, there were at least a good 20 or so people already ahead of us. Once the doors opened at 1015am, we were ushered in slowly, the staffing allowing only about 10 or so people in at a time. Regardless of whether you are buying take-away or are planning on sitting down at one of the few tables in the back, you have to stay in the queue, wait your turn at the counter, and then pick your cakes. Sugino is most famous for his mousse cakes (many of which have been gorgeously recreated on Keiko’s blog Nordljus) which often combine several complimentary flavours. They are light and delicious. Quite simply, Sugino is in a class of his own.
Kyobashi Building 1F, 3-6-17, Chuo-ku
Yummy katsu place
Unfortunately, I can’t actually give you the name (I think it translates as “peaceful pig”) or address of this fantastic, rustic and tiny katsu place. The restaurant’s card, as is often the case, is entirely in Japanese and I stupidly forgot to ask them to help me translate their information. I can give you their phone number though. Hopefully, if you are staying at a good hotel, your concierge can call them and get the details for you. I can say that it’s a stone throw from Tsukiji, just south of Ginza. This little restaurant has a small counter and just two tables. The menu is fried, breaded pork. You have a choice of either loin or filet. S and I had the loin (“rosu”) and it was delicious but also a tad scary. It was hands-down the fattiest piece of katsu I have ever been served. It was also one of the tastiest. Each katsu is served with a large mound of cabbage, (curiously) some spaghetti with tomato sauce, and rice.
This is one of the most well-known and popular Kyushu style ramen joints in town. It is excellent and very affordable.
They have several branches around Tokyo
A chef-friend recommended we try Essenza, a stylish pasta bar on the 5th floor of the Marinouchi Building. S and I really loved this place. Quick, delicious and well-priced pasta dishes are made from scratch before your eyes. We were especially impressed that the pasta was all homemade and the ingredients were all top-notch. S had a crabmeat and spring onion pasta while I indulged in one of their combination plates. I ordered the seared duck breast, sauteed white asparagus and spaghetti carbonara plate. It was fabulous.
My friend M sent us to this popular sushi place in the Tsukiji market area for lunch. Since her boyfriend is in the tuna business and does a lot of that business at Tsukiji, we trusted that she knew her sushi shops. Sushizanmai was a whole lot of fun and it served terrific sushi to boot. Plus, the prices were great. S and I (as expected) totally over-indulged by ordering mass quantities of o-toro (fatty tuna) and aburi-toro (seared fatty tuna). I think we freaked out the chef assigned to us. Mid-way through our first order, he yelled, “Stop!” and made us eat what we had already ordered before letting us order more stuff.
10-8, Tsukiji 4-Chome, Chuo-ku
L’Atelier de Robuchon
S and I are huge fans of Robuchon’s L’Atelier restaurants. We plan on dining at the ones in New York and Paris as well in the upcoming weeks. The Tokyo branch is similar in decor to the others and offers a similar menu. The food was excellent and the staff very nice. We recommend going here for lunch; there are a number of well-priced menus available then.
Roppongi Hills Hillside 2F 6-10-1 Roppongi Minato-ku
La Bombance is a cute little place in Nishi-azabu. It has a counter that seats 8 and one small table that can take 4 patrons. There is only one menu, priced at Y10,000, which given the kind and quality of the food is a great deal. Our 9 course dinner was excellent. S’ favourite dish was a plated trio consisting of an Okinawan corn mousse, grilled sushi with a firefly squid from Toyama, and a morsel of red-bean rice with sauteed beef from Echigo. I was really taken with the very first course, a warm soup of Asari clams, duxelles, sauteed shirako, wild sea-bream and Asatsuki scallions. The friends who recommended this place to us (and who kindly made our reservations) have advised that La Bombance is a real local favourite and booking is essential.
106-0031 2-25-24-B1 Nishiazabu Minato-ku
Ever since I first heard about Lauburu, I’ve been dying to try it. This cute, quaint little French place off Kotto-dori specializes in pork. Working out the menu was an amusing challenge in itself since it was handwritten in Japanese and French and none of the staff seemed to speak any English. The pate was pleasingly rustic and authentic. We loved the grilled pork cutlet and cassoulet. This is a really charming place with yummy, hearty food… perfect for pork-lovers in search of an off-the-beaten track experience.
6-8-18 Minami Aoyama Minato-ku
I was utterly blown away by Restaurant Yonemura, a two and a half year-old branch of one of Kyoto’s most respected cult restaurants. The food here is stunning. It is modern, exciting, surprising and delicious. The chef we spoke with called it “new Japanese” (actually, because he only spoke Japanese and French, he said, “Nouvelle Japonaise”). It is a blend of Japanese and European styles and ingredients, served in small bites. At dinner, only a 10 course (Y14,000) tasting menu is available. There is a counter with 12 seats and another room with a few small tables. S and I chose to sit at the counter, which allowed us to see most of our meal cooked right in front of us. Easily the best course of the meal was a small bowl with some fish that had been breaded with panko and deep-fried. Nestled under the fish was a morsel of foie gras that had also been breaded and fried. This was all sauced with a veal jus reduction. The foie gras was amazing! Other outstanding dishes were a lobster and young bamboo shoot gratin; sauteed white asparagus served with jamon iberico and dehydrated chervil; and angel hair pasta served with fresh sea urchin, baby squids, rape leaves, and tomato salsa. This was easily the best meal we had in Tokyo and a place we mean to revisit sometime soon.
Kojun Building F4
This small knife shop in the Tsukiji market area was recommended to me by both a pastry chef and my friend in the tuna business. The knives are handmade and are of a high quality. He sells both blades made with either carbon steel or alloy steel (which doesn’t rust). He also makes a variety of specialty knives, such as ones for chopping chicken bones or specific knives for making different incisions in certain fish.
4-13-6 Tsukiji Chuo-ku
Edible art. This wagashi boutique blends modernity and tradition effortlessly. S bought some gorgeous black sesame wafers which were designed to be filled just before you eat them (the sesame filling was packaged in individual sachets). They tasted great, looked amazing and were packaged with a style and precision that can only be described as uniquely Japanese. In addition to the great snacks, Higashiya also produces some beautiful ceramics. S went nuts buying gifts for friends (and herself) and we also found the perfect wedding gift for friends getting married this week in California.
1-13-12 Aodadai, Meguro-Ku
Founded in 1908, this Seto porcelain producer is renowned for its traditional techniques. We fell in love with the tea-set they made especially for the Ritz-Carlton. Their porcelain is so fine that it is translucent. The matt finish of some of their pieces gives the otherwise traditional pieces a contemporary edge.
D-0319 9-7-4 Akasaka Minato-ku
Tokyo Japan 107-0052
Tokyo Midtown Galleria 3F
Tel: +81 (0)3-5413-3343
Japanese desserts are beautiful. They can also be delicious and the ones from Toraya are among the best in the country. Ask the staff for recommendations or look at the English translations in their catalog and choose whatever most appeals to your tastes.
Many locations: www.toraya-group.co.jp/english/
Room with a view
This stunning new hotel sits on the top 9 floors of the new Midtown Tower, Tokyo’s tallest building. That means that the rooms and suites on the 53rd floor have the very best views in the city. Of course, as in all Ritz-Carltons, the service is impeccable and the clientele tres chic. Check in for a few days or follow the Japanese and check in just for one night in order to experience the hotel. I was thrilled to see that one of the concierges that had made my recent visit to Osaka so wonderful had been transferred to the Tokyo hotel. Situated smack in the middle of the Midtown development, the hotel is also fantastically located. Midtown is amazing, not only because 40% of the land has been allocated to public parks, but because of the great mix of art, food, design and shopping situated within the project. www.ritzcarlton.com/en/Properties/Tokyo/Default.htm
Cool art space
21_21 Design Sight
Built by Tadao Ando and managed by Issey Miyake, this concrete, glass and steel contemporary art space is really cool. I wish we had spaces like this in Singapore. By chance, we visited on the day that 21_21 launched an exhibition on chocolate, which was both visually and intellectually stimulating.
9-7-6 Akasaka, Minato-ku