The festive season is upon us, and 2015 beckons. But before we move on, herded into the Year of the Sheep, it’s time to pause, celebrate and give thanks for the abundance of fine eating over the past 12 months.
As always, Tokyo has spawned far too many great restaurants to cram into the confines of this small column. Here are a few more that have caught the eye and tickled the palate in 2014. Not a top 10 or “best of” list, just a grab bag of places that will repay repeated visits in the year to come.
Most major developments open with a blockbuster restaurant or two inside, to draw in the extra foot traffic. Toranomon Hills’ unveiling was strangely muted in that respect, but it’s worth the journey just for a meal at the excellent Pirouette (1F Toranomon Hills Garden House, 1-23-3 Toranomon, Minato-ku, Tokyo; 03-6206-6927; www.pirouette.jp).
Hidden away at street level in a low-rise annex, it offers beautifully composed, produce-driven modern French cuisine in a sharp, contemporary setting. Advising on the menu is noted Parisian chef Eric Trochon. But the man in charge of the open kitchen is Naoya Kobayashi, formerly of Hommage in Asakusa. Expect a full report soon.
There was a far bigger splash — foodwise, at any rate — when the new Coredo Muromachi opened in Nihonbashi. This column has already extolled the perfectly named La Bonne Table and also lauded the charcuterie at Nakasei Sakanaya. Another of the standouts is Hakkaisan Sennen Koujiya (Coredo Muromachi 2, 2-3-1 Nihonbashi Muromachi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo; 03-6262-3188; www.sennen-koujiya.jp).
Install yourself at the sake bar and sip on premium Niigata sake from the Hakkaisan brewery, with light meals or bar snacks, such as dried seafood delicacies that you sear lightly over a small hibachi grill. And don’t leave without perusing the shelves of pickles, sweet amazake and other products made from koji (cultured rice). For those in Kanagawa Prefecture, there’s another branch at the new Shonan T-Site (shonan.tsite.jp), which opened last week.
Yoyogi’s buzzy Portuguese bistro has sprouted a smarter new spinoff. As the name suggests, Mar de Cristiano (1-3-12 Tomigaya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo; 03-6804-7923; www.cristianos.jp/mar) specializes in seafood, including lots of excellent charcoal-grilled fish, with a nice selection of Portuguese wine and port. Like at the original Cristiano’s, just a minute’s walk away, the interior is covered with colorful, evocative hand-painted decorations.
Ramen lovers had plenty to celebrate this year, not least the arrival of not one but two new outlets of Rokurinsha, arguably the city’s finest proponents of tsukemen dipping noodles. The first is inside Haneda Airport (Tokyo Sky Kitchen 3F, 2-6-5 Haneda Airport, Ota-ku, Tokyo; 03-6428-0027), adding one more reason to shun far-off Narita when flying international.
Better yet, Rokurinsha has also returned to Osaki, just spitting distance from the site of its original, massively popular (and now closed) main location (Osaki Wing City 1F, 2-11 Osaki, Shinagawa-ku; Tokyo; 03-6417-3566; rokurinsha.com). The tsukemen is every bit as good now — though purists may disapprove of the new addition of shrimp oil to the umami mix — but this time there are no lines around the block. Except at peak meal times, you’re likely to walk straight in.
Tokyo’s thirst for porters, bocks and IPAs continues to grow, and Craft Beer Market is doing its utmost to spread the word and lubricate demand. Its fourth branch, also in Coredo Muromachi, was the first to open on Sunday. Now there’s a fifth location, in Koenji (2-22-6 Koenji-kita, Suginami-ku, Tokyo; 03-5356-7982; www.craftbeermarket.jp/store_koenji.html), and this one is even more noteworthy, especially its food menu. Look for great charcoal-grilled seafood and meat, especially the Iberico pork, plus a fine range of French-inspired supporting dishes to go with the draft brews dispensed from the 30-odd taps.
Change is afoot at one of Tokyo Food File’s favorite restaurants. After six years in the residential backstreets of Aoyama, Florilege (4-9-9 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo; 03-6440-0878; www.aoyama-florilege.jp) will be closing in late February. Or rather it will be moving and morphing into a different style of operation. Rumor has it chef Hiroyasu Kawate will be installing an open kitchen. Seats at that counter are likely to be some of the hottest tickets in the city.
At this time of year, restaurants give their decor and BGM a seasonal tweak but few if any seem to be aware there are any other feast days than Christmas. So extra kudos to the wonderful little World Breakfast All Day in Gaienmae (3-1-23 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo; 03-3401-0815; world-breakfast-allday.com) for acknowledging the existence of Kwanzaa and Hanukkah. The Happy Holiday menu, featuring latkes and more, runs through Jan. 5.
Whatever you’re celebrating, good feasting and good health to to all Japan Times readers in the year ahead.