The Michelin Guide has consistently awarded more stars to Tokyo dining establishments than any other city in the world. I created this blog as my personal Tokyo restaurant guide, but I hope you will also enjoy reading it. If you have been to any of the same places feel free to leave some comments about your own experiences.
Kotatsu is a little izakaya in Azabu Juban which is run by what seems like a happy and friendly team of young guys. They have a shortish menu and specialise in yakitori grilled-type thingies, but are not limited to that. I found the experience of dinner there to be quite enjoyable and more than happy to suggest you drop in if you're after something unpretentious and Japanese in Azabu-Juban.
Shunju is a well known izakaya at the top of the Sanno Park Tower in Tameikesanno. On the night I visited it was not at all crowded so my dining partner and I were lucky enough to get a window seat and enjoy the view out to Shinjuku. The ambiance on the night seemed chilled and quite laid-back - quite how I like it. Crowded, noisy, smoky izakaya do my head in!
The set we ordered was around 5,000 yen, which I think is quite good value for what was included. The flavours in some of the dishes were a little bland for my liking but, all in all, it's a nice set. The service is also very pleasant, so if have an out-of-towner to modestly entertain, I would try it out.
The seasonal appetiser (I wish I could remember what it was - the taste was not memorable)
Broiled tofu with miso meat sauce. Rich and spicy - yum!
Deep fried yam and "Shunju" croquette. I found these a little on the bland side.
Miso stewed beef cheek with organic vegetables. This was delicious.
Ichi is a very good izakaya located off Meguro Dori in Shirokanedai. It is clearly a local neighbourhood favourite and doesn't even worry about having a website.
There is a comprehensive board of daily specials in the evening (you will need to read Japanese) as well as a daily lunch set, which is whatever they decide each day. The quality of the food is good, however the servings are skimpy and the service is extremely s l o w if they get more than a couple of groups in.
Despite this, for a local izakaya experience with high quality cooking, it's worth a look.
Excellent sashimi (but it was tiny!)
Prawn balls and daikon in broth were very fresh and delicious
Shiitake with cheese - very moreish
Fried tofu was beautifully cooked
Wagyu steak was delicious (especially with the wasabi to counter the fattiness)
Furuken is my ideal of the sophisticated yet intimate and casual Tokyo izakaya. Located in a street just behind Roppongi Dori (a world away, actually), it is a modestly sized establishment with a range of "washoku" dishes that reflect some European influence.
I don't know if I was particularly sensitive on the evening I visited there, but the fragrances from each dish seemed to be so strong and amazing - really much more noticeable than usual, and a sure indication of extremely fresh ingredients and skilful cooking.
Well worth a visit!
Interesting lids for the lacquer bowls
Fragrant mushroom soup (delicious). This was made in a "suri-nagashi" style.
Sashimi of "buri" (yellowtail) and "hirame" (flounder) accompanied by soy sauce, natto sauce, sour plum sauce and Japanese mustard.
This is their signature "chee-mushi" made with three kinds of cheese, abalone and white fish. Amazing!
Stewed octopus with gobo (a root vegetable) leaves. The octopus was tender as can be, but not in that stale mushy way it can sometimes get. Perfect.
Grilled "medai" (sea bream) - lovely sweet flesh
Tempura yellowtail in anakake dashi - great contrast of textures here
Daikon, "shungiku" (a Japanese herb) and fish chawan
Rice and crab ("kana" (crab) kamameshi (rice cooked in stoneware) to finish - excellent!
Strong, red miso soup (aka dashi)
A cassis and strawberry sorbet to freshen the palate
If you're into tomatoes then I have the cafe for you! Virtually everything on the menu (even the dessert) is made with tomatoes and you can select different grades of tomato juice to wash it down with. Service was slooooooow when I visited, but if you're up for something different give it a try.
Tokyo Eater is at large in his home town of Sydney and I have just added another rule to my list - "Beware restaurants where the chef has a cookbook or TV show". I don't want to downgrade the achievements of anyone. I'm sure Mr Moran deserves all his accolades, and he's a much-loved TV star. It's just that I don't think the cooking at his "Aria" establishment at No 1 Macquarie Street Sydney is that good. This is a famous restaurant, a Sydney institution with amazing views (if you get a good table). What's not to like?
Well, the issue in my opinion is that after a while many restaurants, if they are successful enough, turn their kitchens into soulless production lines manned with fewer truly experienced cooks, while the original chef gets further and further away from the day to day. It's easy to sense passion in cooking, and I'm afraid that, even if at one point Aria had this quality, it doesn't have it now. Aria is a place where Sydney people go for special occasions because it's famous, has a view, and is expensive enough to feel like you're doing something extra special.
Certainly the prissy female wait-staff have this kind of attitude that you've just come in from the suburbs and they're going to put some real food in front of you. I don't want to be rude, but even though it has "two hats" from the Sydney Morning Herald the food would not rate in the Michelin guide if we had such a thing in Sydney (and for the record, I'm not arguing in favour of what Michelin does in Tokyo as I think it's pretty random).
But here's why I say this:
First, don't burn the bread. I was told it was from Iggy's at Clovelly as if that's meant to mean something. I have a tip for Iggy though - take the admittedly good sourdough out of the oven when it's done. I also think that in a restaurant like this you shouldn't have to ask for more bread or butter.
I always find the amuse bouche a danger zone. It sets the tone for the rest of the meal. This amuse of gazpacho with avocado mousse was nothing special.
The sashimi in the first course had no flavour at all. FYI to the chef, you are meant to serve sashimi at room temperature. It's not that hard to do. Also, the waitress helpfully told us not to worry that the wasabi (after helpfully explaining what wasabi was like we're idiots) was "not too spicy". Um, OK, why would you serve wasabi if it has no punch? To add insult to injury they substituted the yabby with a common prawn, which felt just a tad low-rent.
Further, I know comparisons are odious, but the presentation is not a patch on Quay. Compare pics if you want to see what I mean.
The foie gras mouse with duck was OK, but nothing mind-blowing.
The salmon with fennel and orange was the best dish of the evening. Very nicely cooked.
The peking duck soup is the speciality of the house. However the soup is WAY too heavy in flavour, and it completely overpowers the dumplings. A much lighter touch on the soup would allow the other flavours to shine IMO.
The pork head meat croquette and pork belly on apple sauce were tasty enough, but I think your average Asian restaurant would do something more interesting.
I felt that the lamb was rather bland. The lamb croquette gave a nice textural contrast though. My dining partner hated the potato and cheese ball, saying it tasted like it had been left out for ages and gone hard. It's probably true but it added a bit of flavour to the meat which needed it.
Rhubarb parfait (took AGES to come out, after the other courses which felt like they'd been rushed through). Way too sweet.
Strawberries and panna cotta was tasty. My dining partner felt it was the best dish of the evening (which was not a compliment to the meal).
Some petit fours to finish with our espresso.
So, this is what you get for A$160. With a bottle of Sancere, some water and a modest tip the bill for two came to $500. Actually in terms of international norms, I didn't think it was too expensive, but Aria is definitely not winning in the international league. There's nothing wrong with that either - just that perhaps compared to what could be achieved with more attention to detail, it's a pity for Sydney. I get it though. The kind of care that makes a restaurant in Tokyo great would just not be commercially worthwhile in Sydney. Just keep on pumping it out guys! It's noice enough.