Friday, May 29, 2015

Best Restaurants in Tokyo - My Top 5 Picks

Now I know the title of this blog post might seem a tad disingenous, but as Troy Barlow (played by Mark Wahlberg in Three Kings) replied when asked by his wife if the war he was fighting was over: "Well, it is and it isn't, baby." And so it is with this mini list.  At the present time, I am declaring these to be my current top 5 go-to restaurants, which is not to say they won't be supplanted about another five or 10 outlets tomorrow, and another batch the day after.
So in no particular gastronomic order, here they are:

Olive (Kushiagetowain'orihbu)
Higashinari Building B1, 8-10-7, Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo,104-0061, Japan
+81-3-3571-3370 - Closed Sundays

My foodie friend Gerry promised to take us somewhere off the beaten path - not geographically per se, only in terms of what we were to have for dinner our first night in Tokyo a couple of months ago.  So that meant no sushi, tempura, teppanyaki, ramen, soba, nabemono or unadon.  She rose to the challenge admirably and recommended this discreet basement restaurant tucked in one of the Ginza side streets.
Unlike yakitori which refers to grilled meats on skewers, kushikatsu or kushiage adds the must-tastier element of the deep-fry to these stick snacks.  So that's exactly what we had at Olive: the restaurant featured a 10-skewer set dinner menu, and that's where the red flags for me should have been hoisted.  For a single price, multiple skewers of perfectly deep-fried parts of beef, pork, chicken, seafood and vegetables were steadily placed on the table until I cried oh my god, enough already! I can't possibly take another bite. But oh wait, is that the calamari he's making next? Get me some of that!
Our fish croquettes garnished with salmon roe
Please factor in your copious consumption of beer to keep pace with your kushiage intake. 



The lone chef at work, deep frying in refined olive oil and skewering everyone's orders.  By no means is this a fast food joint - diners here know to go with the chef's methodical flow.
A much-welcomed palate refresher of apple vinegar jelly

  


Nihonbashi Tamai Anago 日本橋 玉ゐ
2-9-9 Nihonbashi, Chuo-ku.
Open Daily
+813-3272-3227
        
I would highly recommend upgrading your order (for a mere 200 yen) with a hone chazuke: pouring hot broth into a bowl of rice topped with the calcium-rich bones of the anago.
Tender grilled anago in kabayaki teriyaki sauce over a bed of rice in a lacquer box.


Anago Chirashi - a bowl of sushi rice "scattered" with toppings of anago, grilled egg, roe, lotus root, shiitake mushrooms and seasonal vegetables.
Bare interiors of dark wood and high ceilings, befitting its former roots as a sake shop.


The rapidly formed line just a few minutes after the restaurant opened.


Tempura Yamanoue Roppongi
3/F Garden Terrace, Tokyo Midtown
+813-5413-3577

A branch of the Yamanoue tempura restaurant in Kanda Surugadai, this is no grubby back-street deepfry joint.  Like everything else in this tony shopping centre in the heart of Roppongi, this restaurant is beautiful and pristine, and the tempura offerings are made with the freshest seasonal ingredients, all deep-fried in the finest sesame oil.
My tempura set dinner: definitely not cheap, but it was definitely good.
Four of my 13 tempura courses
Somehow, our chef managed to make the creepiest looking shellfish look (and taste) delicious.
Professionals at work


Everything I needed for my 13 tempura courses


Tokyo Midtown, Roppongi










Nagi Shinjuku Golden Gai
Shinjuku Golden-gai (G2 street) 2F,1-1-10, Kabukicho,Shinjuku-ku,Tokyo
Open 24 hours

Boy, this ramen place was a real doozy to find. Hidden in the narrow drinking pedestrian streets of Shinjuku's Golden Gai, the long line started at street level and snaked into a dimly lit alley.  The restaurant, located on the second floor, is open 24/7, making it a perfect drop-in to bookend an evening of revelry infused with sake. Orders are taken efficiently via the ubiquitous vending machine; there's an English menu but basically, one should just order their house special: signature ramen barely submerged in dried sardine broth and topped with fatty slices of BBQ pork, bamboo shoots, seaweed, and my personal favourite, a still-runny soft boiled egg.
The alleyway queue which I had to go around the block to get in line.
Pretty much had to walk up sort of sideways up these stairs. Those who've imbibed one too many sake shots might need to pay a bit more attention navigating up and down the steps.


Am always amazed how chefs can make it work in these crazy tight spaces.
Incredibly thick, al dente ramen in a dried sardine creamy broth with an especially pungent kick.


Couldn't quite swing my camera around for a decent shot (did I mention the space was not for claustraphobics?) so had to settle for a reflective view instead.



Katsukura
Takashimaya Times Square,14F, 5-24-2 Sendagaya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, Japan
 +813 5361 1878

It's no secret that I love tonkatsu (pork cutlet,) and Katsukura is pretty much my go-to place for all deep-fried pork goodness when in Tokyo.  This restaurant (one of several in the city) features an open kitchen, and each set comes with pickles, miso soup, rice and best of all, unlimited helpings of finely shredded fresh cabbage to complement the tonkatsu.
DIY sesame grinding
The wonderfully tender misokatsu fillet
What I always order: a plateful of breaded, deep-fry ebi (prawn.) The tartar sauce dip is divine.
Tsukemono (pickled radish, tomatoes and fresh spinach in sesame dressing)

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