Nordic cooking, Japanese bounty: Strong Noma current runs through new Tokyo restaurant

by Robbie Swinnerton

Contributing writer

The culinary thread running from Greenland to Copenhagen and thence to Hokkaido and the rest of Japan may not be immediately obvious. But those are some of the key points on the line of inspiration behind a new restaurant that will open in Tokyo in late June.

Called Inua — from the Inuit term for the life force that runs through nature — this new venture aims to bring together two very contrasting culinary cultures that are currently sharing the global gastronomic spotlight. Denmark has become a standard-bearer for the movement known as New Nordic cuisine, while Japan is now the preeminent destination for gourmet travelers.

Inua, which opens on June 29, will be helmed by German-born chef Thomas Frebel, who spent 10 years at the renowned Danish restaurant, Noma, which four times over the past decade was awarded the title of the world’s best restaurant. During that time, he was head of research and recipe development.

Inua will be helmed by German-born chef Thomas Frebel, who spent 10 years at the renowned Danish restaurant, Noma.
Inua will be helmed by German-born chef Thomas Frebel, who spent 10 years at the renowned Danish restaurant, Noma. | JASON LOUCAS

For Frebel, working in Japan represents a return rather than a new start. In 2014, he spent a considerable time traveling around the country, preparing for the massively anticipated one-month Noma pop-up that took place in Tokyo early the following year to worldwide acclaim. He says that experience left him wanting to explore even deeper.

“I felt this strong connection with Japan, the landscape, the culture and the ingredients,” he says. “And when we left, I had a deep sense of unfinished business. For me, this is a long-held dream, to be here in one of the world’s greatest food cities.”

While Frebel is the man in charge of the day-to-day operations, Inua has some powerful support. It has come together thanks to a partnership between René Redzepi, the head chef and co-owner of Noma, and the Japanese media and publishing giant, Kadokawa Corporation. And the restaurant will occupy the top floor of Kadokawa’s building in the Fujimi area of Chiyoda Ward, just a short stroll from the atmospheric Kagurazaka district.

Frebel is keen to point out that Inua will be his restaurant, not an overseas branch of Noma. At the same time, he acknowledges that inevitably there will be strong areas of confluence.

“After 10 years, there is so much of Noma in me — and a certain amount of me in Noma, too,” he says. “I would be crazy to not accept that. Inua will be quite different from Noma Japan, but it shares the same philosophy. With a very few exceptions, I will only be using ingredients grown in Japan. But there is such amazing diversity here, from the northern landscapes of Hokkaido down to sub-tropical Okinawa. I can’t wait to get started.”

Inua opens on June 29. The 50-seat restaurant will offer a tasting menu at ¥29,000 (plus drinks pairings). It will be open for dinner only (two sittings), Tuesday to Saturday. For full details and reservations, see inua.jp.