Food & Drink | TOKYO FOOD FILE

Caveman: The best opening of the year? So far, at least

by Robbie Swinnerton

Contributing Writer

Little more than two months into 2020, already we have a strong candidate for the best opening of the year. And, at the same time, a probable shoo-in for most memorable restaurant name. After all, who’s going to come up with anything better than Caveman — least of all in the casual-fine-dining category?

There are many good reasons for heading over to the new K5 development in Nihonbashi, which opened in early February right across from the Tokyo Stock Exchange. It’s a former bank building, whose hulking structure has been skillfully opened up, refurbished and given a much-needed kiss of life.

Chef Atsuki Kuroda | COURTESY OF CAVEMAN
Chef Atsuki Kuroda | COURTESY OF CAVEMAN

The upstairs floors house a boutique hotel. Down in the basement, you’ll find the hip and happening Brooklyn Brewery bar. But the main action is at street level: a branch of the wonderful Switch Coffee; a cocktail bar with a speakeasy vibe, named Ao; and, topping the bill, Caveman.

It’s the latest project from chef Shohei Yasuda and sommelier Kentaro Emoto, the eclectic team behind Kabi in Meguro. They’ve hooked up with another brilliant up-and-coming chef, Atsuki Kuroda, who recently returned to Japan after several years in Europe, most notably in the kitchen of the then three-Michelin-starred Maaemo in Oslo.

At Caveman, Kuroda’s got a beautiful space to work in. The long room is divided between the main restaurant and the smaller adjoining wine bar. With massive windows, light-wood Scandinavian furniture and plenty of plant life to soften the distressed concrete walls, the space feels comfortable, lively, warm. All the better for settling in to enjoy Caveman’s self-styled “slow culture.”

COURTESY OF CAVEMAN
COURTESY OF CAVEMAN

Kuroda’s dishes are precise but casual, blending in Italian accents along with Nordic-inspired ferments. As at Kabi, there’s only one set menu offered each night (¥9,000; 11 dishes; pescatarian options available; by reservation only), with a drinks pairing (¥7,000) that focuses strongly on natural wine and sake.

The meal opens with finger foods, maybe snow crab meat and konbu kelp mayonnaise on a beef-fat brioche; or buckwheat blinis topped with long-cured mackerel and pickled strawberries, crunchy buckwheat groats and yogurt powder.

Sunchoke fritters in black garlic puree, sprinkled with shavings of brined, smoked ezo-shika deer heart. Delicate yari-ika squid noodles bathed in smoked chicken broth, with fava beans and a quail egg yolk. These are dishes of complexity and deep umami; Kuroda and his excellent team have hit the road running.

Styling: Caveman's dining room is spacious and welcoming, filled with greenery to offset the distressed concrete . | ROBBIE SWINNERTON
Styling: Caveman’s dining room is spacious and welcoming, filled with greenery to offset the distressed concrete . | ROBBIE SWINNERTON

If you’re dining solo, you’ll be seated at the counter by the gleaming open kitchen. Otherwise there are small tables for couples, threes or fours, and also — a caveat if you crave intimacy — a long, large communal table running the length of the room at the back.

The same space also doubles as a breakfast room for hotel guests, as well as outside customers (¥3,500; prior reservations required). And if you just want to drop by unannounced for a drink or two, the Caveman wine bar offers a tasty selection of light a la carte dishes from Kuroda’s kitchen.

Nihonbashi Kabutocho 3-5, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 103-0026; 03-5847-1112; www.caveman.tokyo; open 7:30-11 a.m. (L.O.) & 6-8 p.m. (last seating); irregular closing days; winebar 6-10 p.m. (L.O.); Sat.-Mon. 3-10 p.m. (L.O.); breakfast ¥3,500 (children ¥2,000); dinner menu ¥9,000; nearest station Nihonbashi; nonsmoking; major cards accepted; English menu; English spoken

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