It’s peak autumn in Tokyo. That means sunshine and blue skies, bright yellow foliage on the ginkgo trees lining the streets and a bounty of fall produce. Inevitably, the season also brings a crop of new restaurant openings. Top of the pile so far is The Upper.
The name is apt. From its elevated perch on the ninth and 10th floors of the newly completed Marunouchi Terrace tower, The Upper offers views out onto the clustered high-rises of Tokyo’s most prestigious business district. It all makes sense when you learn this is the flagship property of the Transit General Office restaurant group.
Even those unfamiliar with the Transit name are likely to know some of the restaurants it has successfully launched in Tokyo: Fratelli Paradiso, The Apollo, Longrain, the many branches of Bills, the Guzman y Gomez chain — these are just a few of the places, many of them originally Australian, it has partnered with.
Now Transit has a place all its own, and it is just as impressive as you’d expect. From the light-filled interior with its furnishings and flowers, to the tableware and well-drilled service staff, everything is polished and precise. There’s even a spacious, 44-seat open-air terrace that offers the opportunity for a few more fine, sunny lunchtimes before winter closes in.
But where The Upper has really scored a coup is by bringing in one of Japan’s foremost chefs to oversee the kitchen. Yusuke Takada is owner-chef of the two-Michelin-starred La Cime in Osaka. His superlative modern French cuisine has won him fans and fame, as well as 10th place in the 2020 Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants rankings. Save for a few collaboration events, though, Takada rarely appears in Tokyo. So this represents a chance to see and taste some of his cuisine, without forking over for a shinkansen ticket to Kansai.
Working with The Upper’s hands-on, day-to-day head chef Toru Tokushima and his enthusiastic young kitchen crew, Takada put together an exciting opening menu developed on the theme of “travel” — taking you across the country and around the world without needing to leave the city.
To illustrate this point, the opening menu — five courses plus a few extra starters and mignardises — set sail with a rich soup made from carp, a fish widely farmed in chef Tokushima’s home prefecture of Fukushima. Takada developed it into a thick, comforting bouillabaisse-style potage that warms the stomach and primes the appetite.
This came as a prelude to an excellent series of dishes, starting with a deep-fried “cigar” filled with sanma (Pacific saury) in bechamel sauce and culminating with ezo-shika (Hokkaido venison) served with wedges of apple, rather than potato.
The meal included two other courses worthy of note. In the first, circular slices of sweet, flavorful kintoki ninjin (heirloom Kyoto carrot) and autumn salmon were layered and topped with ikura (salmon roe): several perfect, vibrant orange mouthfuls.
The other comprised a small serving of catfish, breaded and pan-fried to a golden-brown, accompanied by a substantial bowl of genmai kayu (brown rice porridge). It may sound simple, even rustic. But this dish, more than any other, delivered on the promised goal of transporting and grounding you in the Japanese countryside.
The set dinner (¥8,800; ¥13,600 with wine pairing) is also available at midday (if ordered in advance). There are also lighter a la carte lunchtime options, ranging from bourguignon-style wagyu beef (soft-simmered in red wine) or seafood bouillabaisse, to laksa noodles in a lobster bisque and even Takada’s patent beef curry, which he developed as a take-out item at La Cime during the COVID-19 shutdown earlier this year.
For the time being, only The Upper’s 10th floor space is in operation for dining. But the more intimate restaurant space one floor down is due to open from next spring, offering a more elaborate (and pricier) fine-dining menu, which promises to be even closer in style to La Cime. For this initial period at least, Takada will be coming up to Tokyo once a month or so, to troubleshoot and periodically update the menu.
So what does he think of working in the capital for the first time? Compared to Osaka, Takada says he enjoys the change of pace and atmosphere. Does this mean he might even set up a branch of La Cime in Tokyo? Not a chance. We will still need to make that shinkansen ride to be able to taste Takada’s cuisine at its finest.
A la carte lunch from ¥2,380, set dinner menu ¥8,800, also a la carte; takeout not available; English menu; English spoken
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