Pictures by Alex Scharf
We ate an obnoxious amount of good food in Tokyo, so much so that it far overshadowed all of the cool clothing we saw. Which, really, was fine with all of us. If you’re planning your own trip to Tokyo, or simply want an excuse to drool over more of Alex’s great photography, take your time to read through the guide to where we ate while traipsing through the city - most of it located in Shibuya, where I was staying (I recommend you do the same). If you haven’t booked a ticket to Japan by the time you finish reading, well, you’ve got more strength than I.
“Ayu,” or sweetfish, is a seasonal delicacy; caught mostly in the summer when the young fish return to fresh water after wintering in the ocean. The sweet, tender flesh (hence the “sweetfish") is far milder than other river fish, and the most common way to serve them is grilled whole with only a pinch of salt. And they are delicious. Ayu Ramen - named after their prized ingredient - serves grilled sweetfish over thin noodles floating in a delicate, mushroom-fish broth. It’s a perfect dish for summer - light, savory, and filling with no oiliness or heaviness. I loved the setting as much as the food: six seats at the tiny bar, paper lanterns outside, one man in charge of the whole production. Order a grilled onigiri to eat alongside your ramen, and enjoy one of Japan’s summer pleasures.
The sweetfish - light, tender, and perfect for summer nights
Grilled onigiri - the ideal accompaniment
“House Rules: Hello, Welcome. Proper attire requested. Please, no baseball hats. No O-Bombs. No Jager-Bombs. No bombs of any kind. No Shooter. No Cigar.”
That should give you some idea of what to expect from Ishino Hana. Shinobu Ishigaki, the founder, owner and bartender, has been the recipient of multiple global cocktail awards, and Ishino Hana is his castle. We arrived after a long, sweaty day on our feet, but despite the prestige and the harsh-sounding rules, the staff is friendly and the dark, low-ceilinged bar makes the space cozy and comfortable. There’s so much to choose from that our recommendation is to sample - based on your mood, the season, or the phase of the moon - one of the many award-winning cocktails noted on the sprawling menu. And make sure you take the time to appreciate Shinobu-san’s practiced intensity behind the bar - watching his skill was half the fun. So much so that our "one drink, and then off to bed," turned into two or three. Don't worry - if you're not feeling adventurous, and are in the spirit to relax with your favorite drink - perhaps the Styleforum standby, The Last Word - you’ll be in paradise.
There are only a dozen or so seats at the bar, so reservations - particularly on weekends or with a group larger than two - are strongly recommended.
Drinks I've never seen before, and will probably never see again
Enjoying our drinks with a light bite from the kitchen
The bar is not spacious, so make sure you have a reservation!
Il maestro at work
Isari Juuhachiban was the site of our biggest Styleforum meet-up. Seven of us packed ourselves into the cozy interior, which does at least feature tables with benches - no lounging on the floor here which, if you’re tall and inflexible like I am, is a welcome change. It’s relaxed, popular with the lunch and after-work crowds, and features a menu that won’t do much damage to your wallet but will leave your stomach reeling in delight. Fish is the specialty of this izakaya - in fact, I’m not sure there’s anything else on the menu - and holy cow is it good. We took full advantage, and stuffed ourselves with enough sashimi, beer, and sake to make even the staunchest hedonist blush. Aside from the “spilled-over sushi,” the deep, rich miso-crab soup was the most unexpected pleasure of the day. You’ll need a reservation, especially if you’re a large group at dinnertime.
Sake? Yes, please.
"Spilled-over" sushi - there's rice in there somewhere!
Just a small plate of sashimi, please
Cozy, in the best of ways
Nishimura Fruits Parlor
If you’re in Shibuya and you’re looking for desert - say, after dinner at Isari Juuhachiban - Nishimura Fruits Parlor, atop the Nishimura Fruit Market, is an entertaining place to end up. At least, we thought so. It’s a popular date spot, largely due to the view, so most of the other patrons were couples or women out for a ladies' night. We didn't let that stop us, though, and neither should you! There are a variety of parfaits on offer, cutely-decorated confections of fruit and ice cream that will run you ten or fifteen dollars. If you’re like us, however - that is, if you are seven people looking to make memories - go for the unimaginatively-but-accurately-named “Super Big Parfait;” forty-five dollars worth of fruit and dairy. Worth it? Totally. I mean, when else will you have the chance to buy a forty-five dollar fruit parfait?
It may not be the World Cup, but it probably tastes better
If you want to stand in line for so long that your feet go numb, and eat sushi with hundreds of people breathing down your neck, by all means go to Dai Sushi or one of its famous ilk. But if you want great fish with none of the hassle, take yourself to Sushitomi, which lurks just outside the central market. It’s rarely crowded and it’s quiet, which means you can sit at the tiny counter and enjoy your mind-blowing sushi experience in peace. Jack, Alex and I went for breakfast before we headed out to Okura, and it was life-changing. Tuna is of course the star, but regardless of the menu you choose (there are only a few choices, as you can see in the picture below), every bite is a revelation. Do yourself a favor and read about our full experience, but the price for the best raw fish I’ve ever eaten? Maybe seventeen dollars. Go in the early morning for breakfast, like we did, and you’ll be floating on air until lunchtime. I cant think of a better way to wake up - in fact, you may never want to eat again.
Potsura Potsura, listed among the best 100 restaurants in Tokyo, provided us with an excellent and elegant counterpoint to many of the more rambunctious and casual settings that feature on this list - hence why we chose it as the site of our last dinner as a group in Tokyo. Like Isari Juuhachiban, it is an izakaya; a restaurant focused on small shared plates, great food, and a relaxed but upscale atmosphere - which was great for us, since we'd been walking for hours and, after eating at Sushitomi that same morning, I had my doubts that any food would ever taste good again. Well, my worries were unfounded, because Potsura Potsura was just as memorable.
Make reservations (you’ll have to) to sit at the counter, because watching the chefs prepare your beautiful food is part of the fun. Although the culinary background is global, the style is simple - the food is presented with minimal fuss, the flavors are clean and bright; the focus on the natural goodness in every ingredient. If you’re not sure where to start, don’t worry - the service is exemplary. My favorite was the seared wagyu with uni, but everything we ate - sashimi, octopus rice, tempura eel, seasonal grilled vegetables - was delightful. Of course, you’ll have to read the full article and make up your own mind, as “exceptional” doesn’t even begin to describe it. Take your time and enjoy a bottle of wine or three alongside the menu, because you’ll never feel pressured to vacate. It was an incredible note to end on, and I'm already looking forward to my next trip to Tokyo.
Working their magic in the kitchen
A seasonal selection of amuse-bouche to start the night
A sashimi platter, showcasing the beautifully clean flavors of the fish
Grilled seasonal vegetables - nothing but love and a dash of salt
Tempura eel - light, flaky, and tender beyond belief
Seared wagyu with uni - the richest, most decadent plate on the menu
Octopus rice with dried tomato - you have to eat it to understand how delicious it is