Food & Drink | TOKYO FOOD FILE

Akomeya: Kagurazaka branch puts the kitchen first

by Robbie Swinnerton

Contributing Writer

Kagurazaka has so much going for it. History and tradition as one of Tokyo’s last geisha districts; topography, rising above the city with quaint backstreets and alleys winding across its slope; and above all restaurants, lots of them, many of them superlative.

Few visitors bother to climb right to the top of Kagurazaka’s hill, though. Fewer still venture further, down the other side. Until recently there was little incentive to do so. There is now: Akomeya has arrived.

This is big news for anyone who knows the original Ginza branch of Akomeya. More than just a grocery store, it’s a treasured source of foodstuffs and cookware from around the country. It also has a superb little restaurant, Akomeya Chubo, that should be on the bucket list of anyone craving simple, satisfying Japanese cooking.

And now it has a big sister store that offers just about everything you’ll find in Ginza — rice and other food essentials, cooking pots and an array of hardware, plus a restaurant space, also called Akomeya Chubo (“Kitchen”) — transported to a setting that’s far larger, lighter and more capacious.

Think of it as “Akomeya: The Director’s Cut,” although it would be more accurate to call it the “architect’s cut,” as it’s housed inside a 50-year-old book storage facility that’s been redesigned and repurposed by Kengo Kuma and Associates. Plenty of timber has been used to offset the starkness of the metal frame, notably the sensuous wooden stairway that greets you by the exit of the subway station.

Called “la kagu” — apparently after the nickname for Kagurazaka among the local French community — the building has been open since 2014. Akomeya is not its first occupant, but the fit is so good it could almost have been custom designed.

Whereas in Ginza the restaurant is tucked away out of sight, here it forms the heart of the operation. Pride of place in the open kitchen is given to the four old-style rice cookers, contemporary versions of traditional tetsunabe hotpots. To further emphasize the importance of the staple grain, a wooden plaque indicates both the strain of rice being used that day and its farm of origin.

Rice is of course served, along with miso soup and pickles, as part of each meal. But there are plenty of other dishes to go with it. The set lunch, known as kobachi-zen (¥2,315), includes eight side dishes of seafood, vegetables and small amounts of chicken or pork. In late spring, the centerpiece was tempura of hotaru-ika (firefly squid), with marinated katsuo (skipjack) sashimi and stir-fried pork with vegetables as complementary side dishes.

The dinner menus are equally colorful and appetizing, and there is a good little selection of alcoholic beverages — ranging from sake and shōchū (Japanese spirits) to wine, umeshu (plum wine) and gin, all of Japanese origin. Just right for leisurely appreciation.

There is also a cafe inside this mini emporium, called Akomeya Chaya, that opens each day at 8 a.m., serving lighter snacks such as curries and sandwiches, as well as sweets to go with the tea and coffee.

Set lunch ¥2,315; set dinner from ¥3,980; Japanese menu; some English spoken