These are strange days of uncertainty and concern. But around the Tokyo Stock Exchange there are fresh shoots of positivity and hope. Not necessarily on the financial markets, but certainly in the neighboring streets.
This quarter of Nihonbashi, Kabutocho, is undergoing a much-needed revitalization. First evidence of this was the unveiling of the refurbished K5 building in February, with its boutique hotel, basement bar and brilliant flagship restaurant, Caveman.
Since then, several new developments have injected even more energy into this formerly down-at-heel area. In terms of dining out, none are more exciting and welcome than the arrival of Neki, bringing modern casual French dining that boasts both style and substance.
Chef Kyohei Nishi will need little introduction for fans of the ever-excellent Bistro Rojiura in backstreet Shibuya. For five years he manned the kitchen there, at first alongside owner Taichi Hara but later taking the reins full time, maintaining its Michelin Guide Bib Gourmand status throughout his tenure.
Now, finally — after a four-month pandemic-induced delay — Nishi has his own restaurant. Working with a young but skillful crew in a gleaming new space where he can really stretch his wings, this is his chance to show his full potential. It’s still early days yet, but the signs look highly promising.
Initially, Neki was only open for lunch, offering half a dozen choices for both eat-in and takeout, ranging from a simple soup plate — currently a wonderful creamy chilled garden pea veloute accented with mint and orange zest — to open-faced sandwiches and more substantial main dishes.
In particular, look out for Nishi’s grilled pulled pork sandwich, into which he manages to fit mashed potato, cheddar cheese and homemade barbecue sauce before searing it over an open flame to melt it all together. This would work fine by itself for a business lunch break, but if you have the time, tack on a side serving of soup and salad, a glass of wine and maybe dessert, too.
The evening menu is all a la carte, designed for sharing and lingering over wine. Just as at Rojiura, it can be as laid-back as you like, dropping in for a couple of dishes and a glass or two, or relaxing with an entire bottle as you investigate Nishi’s summer menu more deeply.
You’ll find a good selection of charcuterie — reflecting the time he spent working in the Alsace region of France — as well as his excellent homemade pasta. But the highlights of dinner earlier this month were the charcoal-grilled duck breast and, even more so, the roast Iwate Prefecture guinea fowl. It was served with a foie gras sauce so rich and smooth it demanded an extra serving of sourdough (from Beaver Bread in nearby Bakurocho) to ensure none went to waste. Outstanding!
Nihonbashi Kabutocho 8-1, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 103-0026; 03-6231-1988; bit.ly/neki-tokyo; open 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. (L.O.), 6-9 p.m. (L.O.); closed Sun.; lunch from ¥700; dinner a la carte (around ¥4,000/head, plus drinks); lunch takeout available; nearest station Kayabacho; nonsmoking; major cards accepted; Japanese menu; some English spoken