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.
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.”
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.
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