Food & Drink | TOKYO FOOD FILE

Tokyo’s favorite restaurants ease out of the state of emergency

by Robbie Swinnerton

Contributing Writer

So let’s get this straight. We’re supposed to be out revving up the economy, while continuing to observe the prescribed “Three Cs” rule? No crowds, closed spaces or sitting in close proximity? That surely precludes many of Tokyo’s very best eating places.

Are we expected to shun those wonderful restaurants shoehorned into basements or crammed on top of each other in tall, skinny multistory buildings? And what about all the superb one-counter sushi specialists, the elbow-to-elbow ramen shops, the buzzy izakaya taverns?

Thankfully, a growing number of places boast a few outside tables, or are keeping their dining room windows ajar. Now the state of emergency has been lifted and we’re allowed to dine until 10 p.m., this could be the perfect time to head out and support some of our favorite operations, before they get too busy again.

At Pignon, the front of the premises has always been left wide open to the street, as long as the weather permits. This is an essential part of its laid-back style, just as much as chef Rimpei Yoshikawa’s brilliant bistro cuisine.

He has carried on throughout the coronavirus crisis, refocusing on takeout meals and deliveries to the local area, but without paring back his extensive menu at all. For a while he was also serving lunch, and also added a web shop. Although Yoshikawa has since returned to his regular weekday evening schedule, he’s still offering takeout. Don’t miss his signature guacamole, quiche, Moroccan salad or the charcoal-grilled Joshu Akagi-gyū beef.

Kamiyamacho 16-3, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0047; 03-3468-2331; pignontokyo.jp

Wine and dine: Chef Shin Harakawa offers a mellow, comforting space at The Blind Donkey. | ROBBIE SWINNERTON
Wine and dine: Chef Shin Harakawa offers a mellow, comforting space at The Blind Donkey. | ROBBIE SWINNERTON

The alleys around Kanda Station, usually so brash and busy, have been sadly empty these past months. But that hasn’t deterred chef Shin Harakawa from getting back to work at The Blind Donkey, the popular farm-to-table restaurant he runs with co-owner Jerome Waag.

Initially, Harakawa’s main focus was the takeout selection. But now he’s able to keep serving a bit later, he’s offering a regular a la carte evening menu, along with his full list of natural wines. And already customers are starting to return. With the entire glass frontage pulled back and the warm glow spilling out on the empty (for now) street outside, it makes for a very mellow, comforting space in these dark and troubled times.

Uchikanda 3-17-4, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 101-0047; 050-3184-0529; theblinddonkey.jp/en

Asakusa is another area where the vibrancy has all but vanished. The tourist shops are closed and so too most of the backstreet eateries. One very welcome exception is the excellent, idiosyncratic La Maison du Isshovin. Helmed by the irrepressible, ever-energetic Hisae Iwakura, it celebrated its return to longer evening hours on June 2. The formula remains unchanged, with the same extensive menu of izakaya snacks that go so well with her selection of sake and wine, all sourced from within Japan.

Iwakura and her crew have set up a couple of tables in the outside entrance courtyard, which will serve perfectly until the rainy season sets in. Meanwhile, seating inside around the central teppan grill has been reduced to ensure adequate spacing between customers.

Asakusa 1-9-5, Taito-ku, Tokyo 111-0032; 03-6231-6103; kettle.tokyo/isshovin

In line with the nationwide state of emergency declared on April 16, the government is strongly requesting that residents stay at home whenever possible and refrain from visiting bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.
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