The spring equinox may be just around the corner, but Tokyo currently hovers on a very different cusp: When will the state of emergency come to an end?
One thing that’s certain is we’re not out of the coronavirus woods yet, which means the ongoing evening dining curfew looks set to continue for at least another couple of weeks.
For customers, this represents at most an inconvenience. If we want to dine out, we have to start early; otherwise we order in, cook for ourselves or get by snacking on convenience store fare. For many restaurants, though, it feels like a death spiral.
Spare a thought for the specialist restaurants that serve leisurely, multicourse omakase (tasting menu) meals, drawing customers who like to settle in for the evening. Because they’re currently required to close by 8 p.m., dinners that might normally take two hours or more require start times that are totally impractical, especially for weekdays.
Hardest hit have been the smaller, less established places, as chef Ryohei Hayashi and his wife, Sari, can attest. Since opening in 2018, their 18-seat second-floor Japanese restaurant, Tenoshima, has won a strong reputation — and a Michelin star — on the strength of Hayashi’s expertise, married with a refreshing lack of traditional formality.
Having honed his skills for 17 years under Yoshihiro Murata, the doyen of Kyoto chefs — first at Kikunoi, Murata’s renowned ryotei (high-end restaurant) in the old capital, and later at its Tokyo branch — Hayashi has paid all necessary dues. He has gone on to develop his own approach, drawing inspiration from his travels abroad as well as the seafood of his ancestral home, the island of Teshima in the Seto Inland Sea.
To help tide themselves over this period of uncertainty, the Hayashis have launched a takeout menu (in Japanese only) featuring several of the classic dishes that feature on their main menu.
Pride of place goes to the outstanding Tenoshima sushi sets (¥5,900 full/¥2,950 half-size), featuring a selection of different fish: either sawara (Spanish mackerel) or saba (mackerel); anago (conger); plus two kinds of inari (stuffed deep-fried tofu pouches), with pickled ginger and dipping sauces on the side. For a small supplement, you can get them packed in a woven bamboo box, each section of sushi wrapped in green sasa bamboo leaves. Freshly made, lightly seasoned, beautifully presented, this is highly recommended.
Each sushi is also available separately (from ¥2,500; inari from ¥350), as are servings of rice cooked in ceramic hotpots (¥800 plain/¥3,500 with crab or other toppings). There is also a range of simple, appetizing side dishes, such as dashimaki tamago (Japanese omelet; ¥1,500); kaki-furai (breaded deep-fried oysters; ¥2,200); and buri-daikon (simmered yellowtail and daikon in broth; ¥2,000).
Ordered up to a day ahead, for pick-up from the restaurant in the afternoon, they are all outstanding. A great way to sample high-end washoku (Japanese cuisine) at home, while helping Hayashi survive till better times return.
1-55 Building 2F, Minami-Aoyama 1-3-21, Minato-ku, Tokyo 107-0062; 03-6316-2150: www.tenoshima.com; open 5-10 p.m. (currently till 8 p.m.); closed Sun.; tasting menu from ¥13,000; takeout available from ¥350; nearest station Aoyama-itchome; nonsmoking; major cards accepted; English menu; English spoken.
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