Tokyo is undoubtedly a paradise for food lovers. From themed restaurants to street dining and unique-to-Japan specialties, the city has so much to offer to travellers from all over the world. If you’re searching for ‘best restaurants in Tokyo’, you’ll probably end up in a dilemma because the Japanese pride themselves in serving the best and every single restaurant has its own unique appeal! However, if you’re looking for an authentic gastronomic experience, a place to network with the local office crowd after working hours at an Izakaya tavern, or meet like-minded foodie travellers from around the world, you’re at the right place. Here are four places to include in your itinerary the next time you visit Tokyo.
1. For hand-crafted coffee – Café de L’ambre
Coffee culture in Japan has been brewing for centuries and is a trailblazer in manual brewing techniques such as siphon and pour over. Café de L’ambre is one of the oldest kissaten (coffee shop) around. This coffee house in Ginza serves only coffee and nothing else.
The interior of the coffee house feels like a movie set in the 1950s. The retro décor adds to its charm. They roast their beans on site three times a week and the first few things you’ll notice is the alluring smell of roasted coffee beans. It has a total seating space for 22, but request to sit around the bar counter and get to see the coffee master in action. Their specialty is traditional hand-dripped black coffee so do not expect to find your Lattes or Flat Whites on the menu. Good coffee is subjective as it really depends on what attracts you. The good thing is, their menu has a range of flavour profiles and strengths to suit personal preferences. If you need some help deciding, you can always speak to the friendly staff for recommendations.
Address: 8 Chome-10-15 Ginza, Chūō, Tokyo 104-0061
Opening hours: 12.00pm to 9.30pm (close on Tuesdays)
Telephone: +81 03-3571-1551
2. For grilled meat skewers – Saitamaya Yakiton
You may be familiar with ‘Yakitori’ but have you heard of ‘Yakiton’? While both are grilled meat skewers, Yakitori uses mainly chicken and chicken parts, while Yakiton uses largely pork and organ meats. Situated in the northern part of Tokyo and helmed by Master Ogumi Hideo, Saitamaya Yakiton is one of the most authentic foodie adventures you can find. The restaurant does not offer a menu and every patron enjoys the same nine -course Yakiton meal.
But, Saitamaya Yakiton is not for the faint hearted. Throughout the nine course, you will be served organ meats such as spleen, liver, heart and tongue. Everything is grilled to perfection over Bincho charcoal. Apart from pork and organ meats, a few of the courses served are chicken and beef. One of the first few courses is skewered wagyu beef and Master Hideo, known for his hospitality and humour would ask if you would like it rare or extremely rare. The correct answer, regardless of your choice, should always be extremely rare.
Every patron is expected to order at least one drink, their most famous being the Lemon Sour which is essentially fresh lemon juice with Japanese soda and Shochu. There are also Sake, rice wine and Hoppy, which is a beer-flavoured drink with very low alcohol content. Photography and videography are usually not allowed but YouTubers Simon and Martina were given an opportunity to film inside Saitamaya – watch the video below for a visual treat.
Saitamaya: The Master of Grilled Meat
Address: 2 Chome-5-12 Higashijujo, Kita, Tokyo 114-0001
Opening hours: Monday – Friday: 4.00pm to 9.30pm, Saturday: 4.00pm to 6.00pm (close on Sundays)
Telephone: +81 03-3911-5843
Tip: No reservations allowed, so queue at least 30 minutes before it opens and secure front row seats around the counter for the full experience.
3. For a luxurious Omakase meal – Ginza Iwa
Omakase literally translates to ‘I’ll leave it to you’, and is a Japanese tradition of letting the chef decide what’s being served in a meal. It is a rising trend in Japanese cuisine in Singapore but the great thing about Omakase meals in Japan is that it is extremely value for money. You can be assured that you will be served the freshest seasonal ingredients sourced from local markets.
Ginza Iwa is a one Michelin star restaurant and as the name suggests, it is located at the heart of the Ginza district. As you enter the wooden sliding door, you will be ushered to a bar counter where the chef will greet you. In front of him is a display of a variety of ingredients for the meal. Omakase is not only a feast for the taste buds, it is also a feast for the eyes. It is incredibly therapeutic to watch the chef apply his techniques and knife work on each delicate course.
The restaurant offers lunch and dinner seating and sets you back 10,800 yen (S$130) and 27,000 yen (S$330) respectively. The lunch set comes with 12 pieces of sushi, one roll, miso soup and dessert. With each course, the chef explains the ingredients used so you know what you’re having. The meal itself is like a piece of classical music, with just the right amount of high and low notes, each complimenting the previous course.
The highlight of the meal is unarguably the uni gunkan (sea urchin sushi). A sheet of roasted seaweed wraps around the perfectly shaped sushi rice with a touch of wasabi, before the chef digs into a generous portion of uni and gently places it on top, finishing it off with a brush of soyu (Japanese soy sauce). The end product is a creamy burst of flavour reminding you of the ocean. Ginza Iwa is extremely popular so be sure to make a reservation before you visit!
Address: 8-4-4 Ginza 1f, Chuo 104-0061 Tokyo Prefecture
Opening hours: 12.00pm to 2.00pm, 6.00pm to 10.00pm (close on Mondays)
Telephone: +81 03-3572-0955
Reservation: Reservations are only accepted online here.
4. For shrimp lovers – Kurumaebisenka Zezeryumon
There is no better place to rub shoulders with locals other than an Izakaya, a Japanese pub that locals frequent after work to wind down the day with friends and colleagues. Located at Shimbashi, Zezeryumon specialises in shrimps cooked in many ways. The tavern offers affordable set menus ranging from 3,500 yen (S$43) to 5,000 yen (S$60).
The drunken shrimps with Shaoxing wine is always a top hit. These shrimps are kept in a tank near the kitchen and orders are made to order so you can be guaranteed of its freshness.
It is not an Izakaya without drinks. The drinks menu offers a wide selection of Sake and beer. The Japanese are generally a fun and friendly bunch so don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with the people next to you! The idea of an Izakaya is to connect people and you might be surprised by who you might meet!
Address: 105-0004 Tokyo, Minato, Shinbashi, 3 Chome−6-3
Opening hours: Monday – Friday: 11.30am to 2.00pm, 5.00pm to 11.00pm, Saturday: 11.30am to 9.00pm (close on Sundays)
Telephone: +81 50-5594-4355
With so many eateries and restaurants in Tokyo, every visit is a scratch on the surface. But the next time you visit Tokyo, you can be sure that this handy list will bring you on a gastronomic adventure around one of the world’s most exciting foodie destinations!
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The best time to visit Tokyo is between September and November. Summer is peak tourist season.
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