Tokyo is the world’s greatest city for food. That’s a big call, but we’re sticking by it. There is no destination on the planet where you will eat better than Tokyo.
This is a huge megalopolis of some 40 million people, and they all love to eat. Quality here is incredibly high. Diversity is mind-boggling.
Distilling this city to 12 restaurants, bars and izakaya is an impossible task, though if you call into any of the following, you are guaranteed a memorable experience.
Iruca Tokyo Roppongi
High-end ramen for those prepared to wait
There’s pretty much always a long queue outside Iruca, on a back street in Roppongi, because this is one famous ramen shop, and for good reason. One of the best rated of its kind in the country, Iruca serves a decadent and incredibly tasty bowl, with a mix of four different stocks – chicken, pork, prawn and shellfish – combined with either a salt-based or soy-based seasoning, plus diced porcini mushrooms and silky pork chashu. The fact this costs about A$12 almost beggars belief.
4-12-12 Roppongi, Minato City. See ameblo.jp/malbo666/
Some of the city’s best sushi, served in convivial style
It’s easy to feel intimidated by the high-end sushi experience in Tokyo. There are all these rules to follow, mostly unwritten. It’s an amazing experience, but also kind of stuffy. That is, unless you eat at Sushi Rinda. This is high-end sushi with a sense of humour. The chef is Yuta Kono, who spent part of his early life living outside Japan, and who speaks excellent English – a huge bonus for foreign diners, who often miss out on the interactions that form such an integral part of the sushi experience. The food is traditional and superb. The atmosphere is relaxed and foreigner-friendly. In other words, perfection.
2-24-12 Shimomeguro, Meguro City. Phone: +81 3-6420-3343. See www.shortstop-sushi.com.
Deep-fried pork and egg has no right to taste this good
Katsu-don should be basic, honest, no-frills. It’s just a fried pork cutlet sitting atop scrambled egg and a bowl of rice. And that’s exactly what is served at Katsudon-ya Zuicho. Only, everything prepared at this family-run eatery is next level. The pork is perfectly cooked, tender on the inside and crisp on the out. It sits atop a light, fluffy egg mixture that has been infused with dashi, soy and mirin. Below that is a bowl of perfectly cooked rice. This shouldn’t be a meal that deserves elevation to hero status, but after a trip to Katsudon-ya Zuicho you will understand the obeisance.
41-26 Udagawacho, Shibuya City. No contact number. No website.
High-quality grilled chicken in relaxed surrounds
Fuku is a bustling but friendly joint in suburban Yoyogi-Uehara that serves yakitori, or barbecued chicken – the word yakitori literally means “grilled poultry” – and here they take their craft very seriously. That means you can try superbly cooked skewers grilled to perfection over bontocho coals: sample classics such as chicken hearts, chicken “butts”, meatballs of chicken, or chicken wings; or get a little more adventurous with lightly grilled oysters, enoki mushrooms wrapped in bacon, or green peppers filled with melted cheese.
3-23-4 Nishihara, Shibuya City. Phone: +81 3-3485-3234. See sumibikushiyakifuku.com.
Who knew deep-fried food could be this good?
You may think you know tempura. You may think you have a fair grasp on just how far one could go with food that is dipped in batter and fried in oil. But until you visit Fukamachi, an unassuming but still Michelin-starred eatery in the backstreets of Ginza, you know nothing. Forget that soggy, gluggy stuff you’ve had at home: at Fukamachi the freshest, most seasonally appropriate fish, seafood and vegetables are dipped in lighter-than-air batter and fried in high-quality oil until they’re crisp on the outside and steamed perfectly inside. During a set course at Fukamachi you will be guided through the full gamut of what is possible with this style of cuisine. Bookings essential.
2-5-2 Kyobashi, Chuo City. Phone: +81 3-5250-8777.
Good times with great seafood at this friendly eatery
For the uninitiated, an izakaya is a casual, affordable little joint that’s set up ostensibly for the consumption of beer and sake, though with the alcohol comes small plates of food, and that food can range from basic and cheap to highly complex and pricey. Uoshin is a small chain of Tokyo izakaya that specialises in seafood, and for a place that offers its sake on an all-you-can-drink basis, there’s serious work that goes into its cuisine. The small plates range from sashimi to whole fried fish to grilled oysters to sushi rolls. The produce is fresh and the preparation expertly done. The venue is laidback and fun. And did I mention all-you-can-drink sake?
2-18-8 Kichijoji Honcho, Musashino City. Phone: +81 422-23-2039. See uoshins.com
Dote no Iseya
Photo: Dote no Iseya
Take a step back in time at this historic tempura joint
Some restaurants are as much about the setting as the food, and Dote no Iseya is very much one of them. Set in slightly-sleazy Minowa, this specialist tempura restaurant is housed in a traditional wooden building constructed almost 100 years ago, a creaky edifice that has somehow survived the rush for modernisation around it. This isn’t fancy tempura. It’s “ten-don”, a whopping bowl of rice topped with equally whopping pieces of battered, deep-fried vegetables and seafood, designed to feed the hungry masses, the workers who have been calling through here since 1873.
1-9-2 Nihonsutzumi, Taito City. Phone: +81 3-3872-4886.
The standing-bar concept is taken to new, gourmet heights
Traditionally, tachinomi – Japanese standing bars – are ultra-casual boozers where workers can call in for a quick beer and a cheap snack before jumping on the train and heading home. Ginza Shimada, however, is not like that. Yes, the 10 or so patrons who can squeeze into this classy bar are left standing up, but the drinks are high-end and the food is spectacular. We’re talking kaiseki-style dishes like soba noodles dusted with smoky, umami-rich bottarga; prawn jelly topped with fresh sea urchin roe; Kyoto turnip simmered in dashi and served with grated daikon. Shimada is taking the concept of the tachinomi and elevating it to all new heights.
8-2-8 Ginza, Chuo City. Phone: +81 3-3572-8972. See oreno.co.jp/restaurant/shimada/.
Pizza Studio Tamaki
Photo: Pizza Studio Tamaki
Better pizza than Italy? Believe that it’s true
Italian food is big in Japan, as it is everywhere in the world. In Tokyo there are Italian-style eateries popping up everywhere, including a spate of pizza joints that take their pies very seriously. One of the best is Pizza Studio Tamaki, a small restaurant in a quiet area of Azabu, helmed by pizziaolo Tsubasa Tamaki. The pizzas here are cooked in a searing-hot wood oven for only a minute or so, and arrive topped with ingredients mostly sourced from Italy, though with a few house-made additions. If it seems odd to be eating pizza in Tokyo, know this: when the Japanese set their minds to making something, they make it incredibly well.
1-24-6 Higashi-Azabu, Minato City. Phone: +81 3-6277-8064. See pst-tk2-ad.com.
A glorious meeting of history and fried pork
The Japanese didn’t really invent katsu, the breaded, deep-fried hunks of pork so loved across the nation – it was inspired by European cutlets. They did, however, perfect it. One of the pioneers of the katsu craze was Tonki, a much-loved Meguro institution that first slid its wooden doors open in 1939. Here the panko crumbs are ground into a fine powder before coating the pork, which gives the crust a much smoother texture than other modern versions of katsu, but it’s still absolutely delicious. Coupled with Tonki’s charming, old-school atmosphere, you have yourself a winner.
1-1-2 Shimomeguro, Meguro City. Phone: +81 3-3491-9928. See tonky.jp.
Photo: Onibus Nakameguro
Enjoy some welcome respite – and an excellent coffee
Onibus is your little slice of peace in busy Nakameguro, the perfect place to grab a cup of excellent coffee, relax in nice surrounds, and then get back to the serious business of shopping and eating. This is a boutique coffee roaster and cafe right near Nakameguro station, set in a renovated old house, with plenty of terrace seating on plain wooden benches, and a children’s playground right next door. The menu is pretty simple: espresso, Americano, latte or hand drip filter coffee. That’s it. Though this narrow range of options means everything is done extremely well.
2-14-1 Kamimeguro, Meguro City. Phone: +81 3-6412-8683. See onibuscoffee.com.
Photo: T’s TanTan
Vegans, rejoice: there’s great ramen for you to enjoy
T’s TanTan has stripped away everything you think you know about ramen and started again. Namely: it has taken away the meat. This is a vegan ramen store, a shop serving entirely plant-based versions of soups that are usually made with pork bones or dried fish and topped with more pork, and usually an egg. Not so at T’s, which is hidden in the bowels of Tokyo train station. Here, surprisingly rich, complex soups are created using vegetables, miso and sesame oil, with toppings such as soy “mince”, shredded green onions, pumpkin seeds and even walnuts.
1-9-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda City. Phone: +81 3-3218-8040. See ts-restaurant.jp/tantan.