On an afternoon in early July, Hiroyuki Sato, owner-chef of the renowned sushi restaurant Hakkoku, is in high spirits after a few glasses of Champagne. He’s celebrating the debut of Sushidan, his new casual sushi bar inside the two-story food hall — titled The Restaurant — of Tokyo’s recently launched Eat Play Works, and the positive reception has bolstered his optimism for the venture.
“This project is possible because of friendship,” Sato says, describing how the food hall’s group of loosely acquainted operators decided to create a dining concept based on cooperation. The plan came together like a pot-luck party on a commercial scale: One chef called another chef, who in turn introduced another. The result is a diverse collection of 17 restaurants ranging in style from sushi to ramen, and modern Spanish to Japanese-infused French bistro fare.
“Instead of competing with each other, we’re working to make the building itself a dining destination,” he explains.
When Eat Play Works founder Morio Inoue was developing the idea for the complex — which includes a shared office space and members-only lounge above the dining floors — he enlisted the help of chef and restaurateur Fumio Yonezawa, of The Burn and The Good Vibes. Inoue had envisioned a space filled with reasonable dining options, where people could hop from place to place, sampling various kinds of cuisine. Yonezawa himself stepped up to spearhead Salam, a creative vegan spot serving Middle Eastern-inspired dishes, and brought Sato on board, along with a few other friends, such as Justin Bazdarich of Mexican restaurant Oxomoco in Brooklyn.
“The space is set up so that if one place is full, you can have a couple of plates somewhere else while you wait. That way, the guests can get to know many places, and the restaurants can support each other,” Yonezawa says.
To encourage restaurant-hopping, all of the venues feature counter seating and a la carte menus. Motohiro Okoshi, owner of contemporary Vietnamese eatery An Com, also notes that it is general policy to set aside half of each restaurant’s total seats for walk-ins, making it easier for customers to visit multiple restaurants on a whim.
“Different places are busier at different times of the day,” he observes. “For example, An Com fills up earlier, while (ramen shop) Tsukiya is busy later at night, so there are lots of chances to slip in.”
The variety is an undeniable draw. On my first visit, I begin the evening at Salam, where I tuck into chilled corn soup with lemon-infused soy-milk cream (¥1,100) and candied pistachios before devouring the addictive edamame falafel, served atop a smear of beet hummus and black-sesame tahini (¥1,400). Later, I park myself at Bistro Nemot for a hearty portion of “Irish” cassoulet — rosy slices of roast lamb served with a chorizo-stuffed baby onion and white beans (¥2,500).
The next time I drop in, I start at An Com and sample an excellent pairing of salad made with a mix of fresh papaya and rice bran-pickled green papaya (¥1,300), together with a glass of Awabuki, a sweetly tart sparkling sake collaboration between An Com and Tomita Shuzo. I end up at Oxomoco, where I make short work of a tostada layered with guacamole and raw tuna brushed with soy sauce (¥1,650), followed by the steak tartare tostada and its exotic garnish of toasted cricket-flavored mayonnaise (¥1,750), which imparts a mild nuttiness. Both items pair with smoky Mezcal Koch El De Oaxaca Tepextate.
More recently, I return to Blue Bottle Coffee for a cheeky late-afternoon coffee Negroni (¥1,200) made with Blue Bottle’s New Orleans-style coffee syrup before an early dinner at Sushidan, where Hakkoku alumnus Takehiro Arakawa runs the show, delighting diners with lively banter and expertly prepared nigiri sushi (¥5,000 for 10 pieces).
But the best part about the dining experience at Eat Play Works is the atmosphere of palpable camaraderie among the vendors. Coupled with the unfettered ease of drifting from place to place, it turns every meal into a roving banquet peppered with bonhomie.
Hiroo 5-4-16, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0012; eatplayworks.com.