When Ben jetted off to Japan recently, there was only one question waiting for him once he returned to the restaurant, “What did you eat?!”
Thankfully for us (and now you), he jotted down his kist of Tokyo must-dos.
This little coffee shop in Ginza has one staff member. The coffee is wonderful, but don't be in a rush when you go. It can take a while for the solo barista to make them all, especially because he puts a lot of love into each one. Try the 'rich' option if you like your coffee with milk.
A near impossible-to-find little Yakitori bar in Harajuku, opposite the Takeshita exit of the Harajuku train station. Persevere if you get lost – it’s worth it for the yakitori, beer and sake.
The small bar has about 12 seats, so bookings are recommended. The chef is also a jazz drummer and cooks every skewer with amazing care.
Order up big here, you won't be disappointed. Standouts were Chicken Breast with Wasabi, Chicken Neck, and Ginkgo Nuts. The Grilled Rice Ball looked amazing too, but sadly they had sold out just as we were arriving. Very delicious sake is overpoured in the generous Japanese style – trust the waiter with their recommendations.
After visiting a flea market at the Ohi Racecourse, we headed to this soba restaurant just before they opened at 11am. There was already a line forming. The restaurant has been running for over 160 years and the soba noodles were incredible. The texture was chewy and slippery in the best possible way. Kylie and I had never experienced extraordinary soba, so we never really 'got it’ – until this soba changed everything.
I had the cold soba set with large tempura prawns – this was probably the dish of the trip. The tempura was light as air and the seafood was amazing. Kylie had a hot soba noodle set with an incredible dashi broth spiked with yuzu. The soba noodles softened in the broth (which is to be expected), but the broth made up for the lack of texture in the noodles. The restaurant is a little out of the way, but completely worth the trip.
Tachigui Sushi Akira
This is another tricky one to find. Look for the signs of "Da-Zu" (a different business) when you get into the building and follow them downstairs. A stand-up Sushi bar from the chef that also runs Sushi Shoryu, Akira is much more casual than its more famous older sibling. It’s housed in a slightly run-down-looking little shop that can only fit about seven people at a time.
We arrived around 7pm on a Monday night and were first in line but had to wait an hour before we entered so the people already eating could finish. You order with a pen and menu before sitting and can select the type of seafood – helping us make sustainable choices and avoid eating endangered animals like bluefin tuna.
We had about 18 pieces of sushi each, as recommended by the waiter. It seems like a lot when ordering, but it was actually the perfect amount. You can’t order more once you’re inside the restaurant, so trust the recommendation of the staff and you won’t go hungry.
The sushi is less refined than some very high-end places, but the rice was perfect and the seafood was top quality. We ordered two pieces of some sushi, and the chef kindly prepared one with wasabi and a light brush of soy, and the second with lemon and salt. Extraordinary.
This restaurant is informal and fun – probably thanks to the excellent (and cheap) sake. Watching the chef make the sushi right in front of us was definitely a highlight.
A final note about eating in Japan
Quite a few restaurants we visited had rules about how much you were required to order like ‘a minimum of two yakitori skewers’ or ‘one bowl of ramen per person.’ We didn't want to be those people that take up seats in a restaurant that only seats six just to share one plate of food between the both of us.
We found that by being enthusiastic, kind, and ordering as much as we could (within our budget and stomach capacity) we made so many new friends and were met with the same level of enthusiasm and kindness from the restaurant staff.