The sands of time are rapidly running out on 2018. But before the Year of the Boar comes trotting into view, there’s still a chance to pause, look back and appreciate some of the highlights and new arrivals from the past 12 months — and to wish all Japan Times readers good eating and good health in 2019.
Japan will see a new Emperor installed next April. But for many people it already felt like the end of an era when the venerable Tsukiji fish market was finally shuttered this autumn and its operations transferred to nearby Toyosu. Despite a few glitches — and an entire day deprived of fresh fish for the city’s sushi chefs — the move went smoothly, in the face of grave misgivings about logistics and lingering environmental pollution at the new site.
Meanwhile, several major new developments have mushroomed above the already crowded city skyline. In gastronomic terms, none are bigger than Tokyo Midtown Hibiya, now home to the capital’s outpost of Nanzenji Hyotei, one of Kyoto’s most esteemed temples of kaiseki (traditional multicourse cuisine); Sushi Namba, whose original location in Asagaya remains one of the hottest tickets in town; refined soba noodles at Sobagami; and the plush new digs of Nihonryori RyuGin.
In nearby Ginza, Hiroyuki Sato (formerly at Sushi Tokami) opened the stunning Hakkoku to considerable acclaim in February. Five months later, another up-and-coming sushi artisan, Takao Ishiyama (formerly at Sushi Ya), launched his own self-named counter, Sushi Ishiyama. Meanwhile, on the west side of town, the Nakameguro area saw the arrival in June of the intimate 10-seat Sushi Tsubomi, helmed by Sushi Saito alumnus Makoto Maruyama.
Looking at other genres, the new Katsukami in Ginza is serving premium tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlets) that already rank among the finest in the city. In Daikanyama, Simplicite lives up to its name, both in its spare, uncluttered decor and chef Kaoru Aihara’s stylish modern French cuisine. And over in nether Asakusa, Noboru Arai already boasts two Michelin stars for his superb (and too often overlooked) Hommage; now he has a casual, bistro-style second restaurant, Noura, to complement it.
There has been plenty of import action, too. Hong Kong’s much lauded dim sum emporium Tim Ho Wan landed in Hibiya to massive media coverage. Even eight months later, its cha siu bao and other signature dishes are still generating some of the longest lines in the city. Another well trumpeted clone, Barcelona seafood specialist Xiringuito Escriba, made its bow in the new Shibuya Stream building, though sadly its trademark paellas fail to live up to the fanfare.
A growing number of Japanese chefs are making moves abroad. Sushi Saito now has a branch in Hong Kong. Florilege opened a Taipei spin-off, Logy, in October, and Den is set to follow suit in Taiwan next year. Meanwhile yakitori master Yoshiteru Ikegawa is counting down the weeks till the grill is fired up in Torishiki’s first overseas branch, in New York City.
And, finally, one to look forward to: Milan-based chef Yoji Tokuyoshi (ex-Osteria Francescana) is opening a branch of his self-named Michelin-starred restaurant in Tokyo’s Jinbocho area. To be called Alter Ego, it will feature a take on his cucina contaminata — Italian cuisine filtered through his Japanese sensibility — and is due to open Feb. 4. Bring on 2019!
The year in guides: Michelin and Eatrip
The 2019 Michelin Guide Tokyo was another bumper edition, bestowing 230 restaurants with stars and a further 254 with Bib Gourmand mentions. Among the highlights: L’Osier finally regained its three-star status; a third ramen shop won a star; and an onigiri (rice ball) specialist got a Bib Gourmand. Although the print version is only published in Japanese, the full list in English can be read online at https://bit.ly/2SdDAeB.
For a more idiosyncratic take on the city, look no further than Yuri Nomura’s bilingual guide, “Tokyo Eatrip.” Named after her own restaurant in Harajuku and reflecting the same down-to-earth ethos, it shines a spotlight on places that are the antithesis of haute gastronomy.
Small owner-chef restaurants working with farmers around the country, long-established neighborhood eateries, independent coffee shops, and simple, wholesome noodle counters: Nomura believes it’s the personal that counts, not corporate interests — and shows that Tokyo has so much more to offer than Michelin-level fine dining.