The holidays are over and so is the feasting. Now it’s time to revert to less extravagant fare. But simple doesn’t have to mean plain. Even Japanese comfort food can be a delight to the eye, the palate and the stomach. If you head to Akomeya Chubo that’s the kind of cooking you’ll find.
Anybody with an interest in Japanese food should be aware of the Akomeya store in Ginza. It’s one of the best places in Tokyo to source groceries from far-flung parts of the country. And it has an entire upstairs floor devoted to hardware, including cooking pots, chopsticks, tableware, rice polishers and water filters.
Tucked away at the back of the ground floor and hidden from view behind a modest noren (half curtain) is the store’s excellent, unpretentious little restaurant. At midday, Akomeya Chubo functions as a lunch counter serving set meals; in the afternoon, it becomes a quiet oasis for relaxing over tea and confections; and when the day gets dark, it transforms again into a comfortable dinner spot where you can settle in for the evening.
At lunchtime, you can’t go wrong with the kobachi-zen set menu (¥2,030). This comprises eight small dishes — some are cold; others, piping hot, prepared on the spot — served on a wooden tray. The exact composition varies from week to week to reflect the seasons, but everything is colorful, appetizing, and invariably accompanied by rice, miso soup and pickles.
This is the classic Japanese meal, as eaten in homes around the country, but with several extra flourishes that elevate it above the level of mere home cooking. It is satisfying and affordable fare, especially for this part of the city, but you do need to arrive in good time, as reservations aren’t taken for lunch. However, they are for dinner, and it’s highly advisable to call ahead.
The daytime clientele at Akomeya Chubo are predominantly women. But in the evening, a growing number of couples and even businessmen are using it as a casual drinking spot, a place to catch up after work over a couple of beers, sake or a bottle of Japanese wine. But most diners go for the set meals.
The Akomeya deluxe seasonal menu (¥5,850) starts out with four individual dishes: Sashimi is followed by a soup-based dish, such as ebi shinjo (shrimp dumplings) in a rich katsuo (bonito flake) dashi. Then a light seasonal salad is served, and a deep-fried dish — right now it is tasty fugu (puffer fish) fritters. These are preludes to the main dish: a choice of six seafood or wagyu beef options. The sukiyaki may be more traditional than simmered beef cheek, but both are highly recommended.
And, without, fail there will be rice, cooked in a donabe clay pot. Akomeya is first and foremost a rice store — out front it stocks a dozen different varieties. If you love Japanese rice, you will be enraptured. If you haven’t quite figured out what the big deal is, there is no better place to start.
Robbie Swinnerton blogs at www.tokyofoodfile.com.