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Suzunari

A generation ago, this low-rise warren of alleys lined with eateries, bars and taverns was a much more tightly closed world. To penetrate beyond the noren curtains hiding those inscrutable doorways, you needed introductions or, at the very least, prior reservations. These days most places are a lot more welcoming and, it's safe to say, Arakicho is firmly on the map.

Even so, before you reach the stylish modern entrance of Suzunari you will still need to have booked your table well ahead of time. This is because so many elements of your meal have to be prepared in advance. Plus it's so cozy and small — just three tables, with another seven seats at the little counter overlooking the kitchen — that it's invariably full anyway.

This popularity is a testimony to the quality of the cooking. Owner-chef Akihiko Murata is fully trained and immersed in the kaiseki tradition and has paid all necessary dues. He sources quality seasonal ingredients and he prepares them with care, skill and a loving attention to detail.

Suzunari may look sharp and modern, with its Japan-meets-Scandinavia decor, but there's no sense of formality. You can relax and settle in for the evening. This personal touch is very much due to the careful ministrations of Murata's wife, Yuko. Since you will have already chosen which of the three set meals (¥4,500, ¥6,000 or ¥10,000) you want when you called to reserve, there is nothing to do except order your drinks and wait for the dishes to arrive.