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In any other year, the arrival of Toranomon Yokocho would be a major media talking point. After all, this complex of 26 bars and eateries brings together some of Tokyo’s hottest and most respected restaurant names in a way that breaks fresh ground.

The idea of installing branches of Michelin-starred or introduction-only establishments cheek by jowl with yakitori grills, ramen counters and even a takoyaki (octopus dumpling) stand is not totally unprecedented. What is new is getting the high-end restaurants to dress down their menus and offer a la carte options instead of their usual high-end, multicourse menus.

As the name indicates, the idea is to create an up-to-date gourmet version of a traditional yokochō — an enclave of pedestrian alleys lined with small, low-rise restaurants and assorted watering holes — where you can eat, drink and move around, rather than spending the whole evening tied to just one place.

Occupying most of the third floor of the new high-rise Toranomon Hills Business Tower, the latest jewel in the crown of the Mori Building empire, it was originally scheduled to debut in April. The opening finally came on on June 11 — serendipitously the same day that Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike announced the third and final easing of the city’s coronavirus emergency “self-restraint.”

From concept to design and execution, Toranomon Yokocho has been put together remarkably well. Compared to other so-called “neo-yokochō” projects — most notably Parco’s basement-level Chaos Kitchen — it feels a lot more airy and spacious. But the key factor is the roll call of bars and restaurants, which were curated by local gourmet and food critic Mackey Makimoto.

Party like it’s Friday: Diners crowd around Toranomon Brewery, one of Toranomon Yokocho’s three bars. | ROBBIE SWINNERTON
Party like it’s Friday: Diners crowd around Toranomon Brewery, one of Toranomon Yokocho’s three bars. | ROBBIE SWINNERTON

The idea is that you make your way to one of the three bars in the heart of the yokochō, and pick up a drink while deciding where you feel like eating. Most of the eateries have take-out counters, so you can sit or stand as you sip and nibble in the communal areas in between the restaurants.

For beer, there’s the Toranomon Brewery, a tie-up with a Taiwanese craft beer producer. Directly across from it you’ll find wine by the glass (from ¥800) at the aptly named Hand Picking Wine, as well as a compact cellar where you can purchase a bottle (from ¥4,000) to take with you to any of the other shops. This is all overseen by sommelier Motohiro Okoshi of An Di, a Vietnamese restaurant in Jingumae, hence the tasty selection of Vietnamese snacks and nibbles.

Head further on and you reach the Shushokudo Toranomon Distillery, the most visually impressive part of the entire premises. The massive copper still inside the gleaming glass enclosure produces gin using local botanicals and water from Ome on Tokyo’s western outskirts. This section, with its high ceiling, windows and outside terrace, is the place to meet up for aperitifs, and perhaps a few appetizers, while you gear up to explore the restaurants.

Spirits: Shushokudo Toranomon Distillery makes gin using local botanicals and Tokyo spring water. | ROBBIE SWINNERTON
Spirits: Shushokudo Toranomon Distillery makes gin using local botanicals and Tokyo spring water. | ROBBIE SWINNERTON

Peer into Bird Land Toranomon and you’re likely to see yakitori maestro Toshihiro Wada himself at the helm during this initial opening period. On the other side of the entrance, Torishige Bunten’s dining area is firmly hidden behind a heavy, three-quarter-length indigo noren curtain. This classic Shinjuku yakitoriya has a considerable following; expect to find a line outside each evening, as this is the first offshoot in its 70-year-plus history.

Other names that will be familiar to many Tokyo diners include Ata, serving light, seafood-based French bistro fare; Somtum Der, with its trademark regional specialties from northeast Thailand; a new branch of fried fishburger specialists Delifucious; and the distinctive Okinawan crossover cuisine of Shibuya’s Ryukyu Chinese Stand Tama.

Fans of chef Kotaro Asakura’s “gourmet izakaya” menu at Kirakutei will know he recently left his longtime address in Suginami Ward and moved to Ginza. At Toranomon he keeps things simpler, closer in spirit (and price) to his original Kugayama location. Meanwhile, tonkatsu restaurant Tsukanto is a new, but welcome, return to action for Naotaka Ohashi, the former owner-manager of the now-closed Tirpse in Shirokanedai.

But Makimoto’s biggest coup at Toranomon Yokocho has been to bring Plancha Zurriola on board. It’s a branch of the two-Michelin-starred Spanish restaurant, Zurriola (in Ginza). Here, though, in place of its fine-dining tasting menu, it serves a strong selection of more casual dishes, from tapas to paella and fideua.

At dinner, the signature dish is red Mediterranean prawns, cooked on the eponymous plancha (hot plate) grill. At lunch, the menu is much simpler: bikini sandwiches, essentially a Catalan version of a croque-monsieur, with a choice of pork, chicken or ham fillings (from ¥1,050). Served with plancha-cooked vegetables and a side salad, they are as simple and satisfying as you’d expect from a restaurant of this caliber.

Toranomon Hills Business Tower 3F, Toranomon 1-17-1, Minato-ku, Tokyo 105-0001; bit.ly/toranomonyokocho; open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. (exact hours vary by store); nearest station Toranomon Hills; nonsmoking; major cards accepted; English availability varies

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is strongly requesting that residents and visitors exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.

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