Osaka may be the kitchen of Japan but Tokyo is the true mecca for foodies. As a friend once quipped: you can’t find lousy food in Tokyo even if you tried. That is, unless you are really unlucky or lazy. Then you may find yourself chomping down mediocre food.
So I always research before I go. This list here is a compilation of my research, trial and error and fortuitous encounters: Part 1 covers Main course, Noodles while Part 2 covers Dessert, Happy hour.
Gyu-an is where I head to for my Kobe-beef fix. I was there for both lunch and dinner.
The restaurant was open for lunch from 1130am. I was only 10 minutes late and had to go to the back of an already very long queue. 30 minutes later, I finally got my seat. Happily, the steak I ordered was worth all the trouble.
This A5 150g sirloin beauty set me back by 7500 yen. The 200g was 10,000 yen. If you order fillet, that would cost 10,000 yen for a 150g and 13,000 yen for a 200g. The A3 version was slightly cheaper at 5070 yen and 6150 yen respectively.
Interestingly, foreigners were the main ones going for the expensive cuts. The locals, they preferred to stick to the more economical 990 yen sets.
For dinner, I had Sukiyaki (minimum 2 pax). The prelude was a series of bite-size beef dishes including sashimi – to whet the appetite. All were delicious.
When we were ready for the main course, the matronly attendant began to cook the Sukiyaki.
First, she took a smallish piece of pure beef fat and melted it all over the pan. Then she placed some vegetables inside – onions, leeks, mushrooms – followed by a few slices of the beef. When everything started to sizzle nicely, the sweet sauce was poured over it and the beef was allowed to simmer. Once she deemed the beef cooked, she would deposit them in our bowls. By then, the eggs in our bowls would have been cracked and beaten well and waiting. We took the beef, dipped them into the raw egg, coating them lightly, then slurped them up in one mouthful.
To truly savour A5 kobe beef, it may be better to go for the steak. Although the Sukiyaki was a wonderful experience on its own.
Gyu-an: 6-13-6 Ginza Chuo Tokyo (Ginza Station Exit A3-4min or Higashi-Ginza Station Exit A1-2 min)
Of course, I cannot not try Tonkatsu as well since I love pork more than beef. The first one I went to was Maisen at Omotesando which I’d read was a highly popular Tonkatsu place. True enough, when I got there at the late hour of 2pm, there was still a long queue.
Being the foreigner that I was, I ordered the more expensive cuts: the special X cut (I think there was an ‘X’) and the black pork. The special cut did indeed taste better – more succulent – even though the price differential was not much. But both were tender, juicy and flavourful. Expect to pay 3000+ yen and upwards.
Maisen Omotesando: 4-8-5 Jingumae, Shibuya 150-0001
The second one I went to was Katsukura, which some said have the best Tonkatsu. The appetiser was really tasty and the rice was a beautiful blend of Japonica and barley – very satisfying (to a carbs lover). The Tonkatsu was smaller than Maisen’s though. I felt that Maisen’s Tonkatsu tasted better but in terms of the overall package, Katsukura might win by a very slight edge.
Next time, I will be trying other Tonkatsu places to compare.
Katsukura Takashimaya: Takashimaya Times Square 14F, 5-24-2, Sendagaya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, 151-0051
Jiyugoaka is one of my favourites place to stroll about and window shop. There are also lots of interesting eating places, if you know how to find them.
Kitchen+ is a tiny restaurant in Jiyugaoka that seats only 8. The menu wasn’t extensive but everything we ordered was good – the ingredients were fresh, the food was cooked perfectly and the presentation was flawless. It certainly lived up to its hype (it was highly rated on Tabelog).
Since it is small, expect to queue if you arrive during meal hours. But the lovely owners provide umbrellas for customers waiting outside to shield them from the sun and rain.
Kitchen+: 1-3-17 Jiyugaoka Meguro Tokyo
My hunt for good Omu rice brought me to 81/2, an establishment also within the Jiyugaoka precinct, famed for its omu rice. 81/2 seats 10 but no matter what time you go, you have to queue and wait.
Watching the chef cook the Omu rice was part of the experience, he who juggles a few pans at one time with aplomb and style. All we could do was dig in with enthusiasm to match.
The omu rice tasted as good as it looked – of course. Keeping it simple is still the best.
I was in town and a friend, based in Tokyo at that time, had just discovered a new eating joint. What perfect timing. She called and said: let’s meet there!
‘There’ referred to Oreno French Table Taku, a casual french dining place.
‘There‘ was standing room only but we didn’t mind since the food looked gorgeous, tasted heavenly, the vibes were snazzy and the crowd was cool.
I am still looking out for a chance to try the other Oreno outlets.
Next to the Aomono-Yokocho Station, 1 minute away is a ramen joint – Makoto-ya. It serves springy chinese-style ramen in a flavourful Tonkotsu soup. Open from 930am to 6am, it is a god-send when you arrive late from Haneda Airport and feeling famished.
Makotoya: 3 chome-1-10 Minamishinagawa, Shinagawa-ku, Tōkyō-to 140-0004
Next to the Shinagawa train station there is a ramen alley Shinatatsu Ramen Street (Takanawa Exit, turn left and walk down). There, 7 ramen stores offering different ramen styles are lined up side by side:
Nantsuttei (Kumamoto style with black garlic oil), Nakamoto (spicy Monoglian style), Setagaya (Tonkotsu/Shoyu blend), Kibi (Shoyu), Saijo (Shio), Tetsu (Tsukemen), Keisuke (Black Miso)
I’ve tried Tetsu and Nantsuttei. Nantsuttei’s signature ramen in black garlic oil was generously garnished; the black stock may seem a bit ominous but it lent a complexity and greatly enhanced the taste of the ramen. The Tsukemen wasn’t as impressive though.
I went to Miyamoto near the JR Kamata Station, acclaimed for its Tsukemen. The soup base was made from a very thick fish stock of sardines (part of that acclaim). The noodles were the right texture and the char siew was thickly sliced. It was one of the best Tsukemen joints around.
Niboshi Tsukemen Miyamoto: Nishi Kamata 7 – 8 – 1 1F Oota, Tokyo prefecture 144 – 0051
It must have been fate when we passed by Shodai on the way to the Tustaya T-Site. Trying to score a reservation on a Saturday night was mission impossible but it was perfectly conceivable to just walk in, join the queue and be shown to a counter table 10 minutes later.
Naturally, we ordered the famed white curry udon and the tempura soup soba. But we agreed the white curry udon won hands and legs down (in terms of taste, novelty, looks etc).
‘White curry udon’ was actually a misnomer. The white creamy top was made from whipped cream and potato paste and layered over the curry and the udon. It was an ingenious combination that was perfectly balanced, just the right amount of everything to leave us feeling satiated.
Shodai: 1-1-10 Ebisuminami Shibuya Tokyo
Next: Part 2 – Dessert and Happy hour