Gaze in from the street at No. 502 and you’ll find plenty to tempt you inside. There’s a gleaming refrigerator stacked full of wine; an appetizing takeout selection in the deli display case; a bright, modern interior; and a cozy wooden counter by the open kitchen that invites you to linger with a glass or two and some nibbles.
Occupying an old, two-story house that’s been artfully stripped down inside to reveal its wooden pillars, beams and stairs, then refurbished and remodeled, No. 502’s sophistication feels incongruous in the old-school residential backstreets of suburban Setagaya Ward. But that has not deterred the clientele, who have beaten a path to its door since it opened last November.
No. 502 is a perfect example of the recent fashion for wine stores with wine bars attached. In Japanese they’re known as “neo kaku-uchi,” referencing the traditional term for liquor stores where customers can drink their retail purchases on-site.
In No. 502’s case, the beverage of choice is natural, low-intervention wine. That alluring bank of refrigerators holds 500 different bottles, including some of the most respected European names, as well as fine home-grown Japanese winemakers such as Fattoria Al Fiore, in Miyagi Prefecture, and Yellow Magic Winery in Yamagata Prefecture.
But what distinguishes No. 502 from many others of similar ilk — including its elder sibling, the highly popular No. 501 wine-store-plus-bar in Minato Ward’s Gaienmae — is the excellent, satisfying food menu available throughout the day. The idea is that you can drop in at any time from morning till night to pick up a bottle, stock up on takeout provisions, have a light lunch, prop up the small bar area with an aperitif or book yourself into the airy upstairs dining room for a leisurely dinner.
The man in charge of the kitchen here is Scottish chef James Buckley, who previously worked in Niseko, Hokkaido, and more recently at Two Rooms in Aoyama. He brings an inventiveness to his cooking that elevates it above the standard French- or Italian-based wine bar fare.
Although he’s quite happy to rustle up some pate de campagne, beef tartare or a Spanish omelette, Buckley’s inclination is more toward dishes with ferments and Asian accents. He serves cured madai (red sea bream) carpaccio with fermented tomato, and spikes his asparagus with fiery homemade yuzu koshō (citrus-green chili) relish. Look out, too, for his canard (duck) breast on smoky polenta with piquant chimichurri (Argentinian “pesto”).
Plant-forward dishes are an integral feature of Buckley’s menu. At lunchtime, the deli plate features a warming lentil-shiitake soup (with homemade focaccia) and four different kinds of salads; while the Layered Bento, a three-tiered stack of dishes, includes a selection of pan-fried vegetables, all sourced from an organic farm in Hiroshima Prefecture, along with pickles, sauces (spicy harissa, hummus and basil pesto) and a vial of purple dragon-fruit juice on the side for an extra splash of color and acidity.
Opening during the pandemic has not been easy. Nor have matters been helped by complying with Tokyo’s state of emergency requirements to close early and stop serving any alcohol inside the premises. Buckley says No. 502 has managed to keep things ticking over by pivoting to more takeout dishes — no plastic is used, but reusable containers can be rented for a small deposit — and also boosting retail wine sales by offering direct delivery to customers (details available in-store).
In the interim, No. 502 is open from 11 a.m. till 9 p.m, with the lunch menu served till 6 p.m. Buckley says that as a chef, it’s frustrating not to work a proper dinner service till the end of the evening. But he has no intention of letting up on his menu development, as there are more big changes coming later in the summer. Keep an eye on No. 502’s social media.
Sakuragaoka 5-16-9, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo 156-0054; 03-6413-5550; bit.ly/no502-tokyo; open daily 9 a.m.-9 p.m. (lunch 11 a.m.-6 p.m.), hours subject to change during COVID-19; lunch deli plate ¥1,150, layered bento ¥2,200, also a la carte; takeout available; nearest station Chitose-Funabashi; nonsmoking; major cards accepted; English menu; English spoken
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