You can’t call Fujimaru a restaurant. It’s not really a wine bar either. Think of it as a large, well-hidden wine cellar with a chic little dining room attached — one where you can wander in, pick out a bottle and then while away the afternoon or evening in an area that is turning into one of the most interesting corners of the city.
Tucked out of sight on the second floor of a well-scuffed building that was recently given a new coat of paint and some hip new tenants, it is not a place you would happen upon by chance. But if you did spot its discreet red sign glowing well-above eye level, and if you ventured in to the stark concrete stairwell leading up to it, and if you were then able to find a seat free at one of the few tables or the short counter along the semi-open kitchen, then you would be excused for patting yourself on the back and ordering a drink or two.
You might even feel like opening a bottle of something nice. If so, you’d be spoiled for choice. Almost half of the floor space is given over to a walk-in wine cellar stocked with around 1,000 different wines. Most are French, but there are plenty of Italian, New World and domestic Japanese bottles as well, which you buy at retail price, then pay for corkage (¥1,000; ¥1,500 for bottles under ¥3,000) to drink them in the restaurant.
You will also find a more than adequate list of brasserie-style dishes to go with your drink. Start with the creamy chicken liver mousse, or one of the whole marinated tomatoes, which are served chilled with a delectable, umami-rich sauce. Follow up with the Spicy Roasted Whole Onions, which in fact are halves that have been browned in a pan, sprinkled with plenty of freshly ground black pepper and served refreshingly cold.
Another starter of note is the potato salad. Not too creamy, not too smooth, it arrives with a crown of golden-yolked hanjuku tamago, a lightly smoked version of the eggs commonly served in ramen shops. Giving it an even more distinctive character, the potato is sprinkled with crunchy nibs of Indonesian cacao, adding a chalky crunch along with a distinctive bittersweet-chocolate undertone.
The kitchen does a very tasty take on the ever-popular lobster rolls. The breaded deep-fried lobster tails come with a choice of hot dog rolls or, even better, ciabatta. And for main dishes, Fujimaru offers a good range of fish and meat options, all sourced directly from the farmers or hunters, including wagyu beef, mochibuta, a tasty Japanese strain of pork, and even wild venison or bear from Hokkaido.
Fujimaru is part of an expanding Osaka-based group of wine shops and delis, which includes the only winery in that city — and it’s their own wines on draft here. The chain has made a bold choice of location in Tokyo: The restaurant looks out over the waterfront on the final stretch of the Kanda River before it empties into the mighty Sumida.
From the window, you can watch the lights of the traditional yakatabune (pleasure boats) as they set out and return to their moorings. Atmospheric rather then romantic, but with an undoubted charm, this riverine setting is ripe for discovery. A stop-off at Fujimaru makes the journey worthwhile.
Robbie Swinnerton blogs at www.tokyofoodfile.com