Chef Taka Nishimura's lively, homey and cozy tachinomiya (standing bar) in central Kyoto, crowded into an alleyway that's only as wide as a vending machine, is a world apart and a world away from his station at Nobu Milano, Italy, where he worked for 10 years.

Here at Yanagi Koji Taka, the restaurant he opened in 2016 with his wife, Akane, Nishimura is never more than two meters away from his customers. His small team of staff have to shuffle dance when they want to pass by each other inside the counter of the tachinomiya which, with its gloriously fulfilling and satisfying menu, feels closer to a tapas bar.

After the shutter goes up at 1 p.m., and until it comes down, you're welcome to drop in, no matter the time, and find a spot at the bevelled counter to dig into the food, drink and conversation. Sometimes strangers — neighbors, once they squeeze into Taka's, as it's commonly called — have been known to share plates, their noses and appetites getting the better of them. That's how Nishimura, 50, intended it to be when he returned to Kyoto after nearly 15 years of cooking in Italy, Australia and Denmark.