Sakurai Tokyo: Japanese Tea Experience with the finest wagashi

You will see everything what there is to earn about Japanese tea at Sakurai Tea Experience in Tokyo. The newest addition into the Simplicity design group in Japan preceded its owner’s expansion abroad to Paris (Ogata in the Marais). While Sakurai has just a small tea bar, a hojicha roasting corner and a kitchen counter, it offers the best connection between tradition and the contemporary Japanese culture. All in one tiny room hidden inside the smart contemporary Spiral Tower shopping mall in the fashionable Omotesando.

Sakurai TokyoGreen tea

At the comfortable counter seats a simple seasonal bento lunch is served. Water chestnuts with rice, pickles and grilled fish in April, pumpkin in the fall. Extra treats like miso-aged camembert and seasoned nuts (seaweed, ume plum, sesame) are also offered upon order.

Most tea connoisseurs come here for the extraordinary wagashi and a chosen tea set. There is always a seasonal tea, often infused with fresh vegetables, herbs or ripe fruit. You will find the usual array of sencha, gyokuro and matcha, but more intriguing are the off-the-beaten-path floral Japanese oolong, the roasted and aged teas. In summer, green teas as well as houji-cha could be cold-brewed and served on ice.

With the seasonal lunch different teas will be paired. Starting with cold brewed gyokuro (shaded, high umami steamed tea) as an aperitif, your choice from some unusual with bacteria or mould inoculated teas (an acquired taste I warn you!) and other more purist Japanese teas, to end with a bowl of perfectly smoothly whisked frothy matcha. Alcoholic cocktails with tea can also tempt you later in the day or just a tipple after work.

Japanese tea time in TokyoJapanese food

Japanese vegetables

Sakurai goes further in the level of tea service professionally than most tea rooms you know. This is not a tourist attraction to observe serious tea ceremony, but a perfect match for connoisseur’s tea time. Having your hojicha roasted just prior to the service brews the most nutty, straw-deep clay pot of tea. It is a must at Sakurai.

Japanese roasted tea

Next to the most famous, traditional Japanese sweets boutiques, the finest wagashi in Tokyo is served at Sakurai in the most perfect freshness. Like the designer behind the Simplicity concept, Shinichiro Ogata, the blend of tradition with contemporary aesthetics and taste resonates with most younger locals as well visitors. Often when I sipped my cha, there was some tea professional from abroad (mostly from tea rooms I already knew and visited), awed at the mastery.

If you are interesting in trying some other great tea rooms in Tokyo, read my selection of the best I have edited over the years of my annual trips.

 港区Minamiaoyama, 5 Chome−6−23 スパイラルビル5F, Shibuia, Tokyo
 +81 03 6451 1539


Gastronomic ceramics chosen by the greatest chefs

Fire in my bones sparks when my food is served in a beautiful tableware. Gastronomic ceramics can easily turn even a simple meal into a ritual, but it is at the great restaurants where their work shines like in a jewel box. The chefs’ taste in art is as diverse as the culinary interpretations they themselves represent. It is fascinating to see what kind of plates they chose for their creative food.

gastronomic ceramics gastronomic plates

Artisanal magnificence has intrigued the fine chefs for millennia, but was limited to the royalty and upper class tables. Far more democratised today, the chef’s choices go beyond traditional luxury porcelain manufacturers. Often exploring regional talent in creative collaborations for their special restaurants. I dined at the world’s finest restaurants, and I would dare to classify three approaches to tableware:

  • Sticking to the traditional fine, mostly in Europe-made porcelain
  • Seeking rather minimalist, unassuming contemporary or rustic ware in the Japanese or Korean style
  • Elevates local or one’s native talent into starry heights by their highly curated selections and collaborations

gastronomic ceramics

gastronomic design

It is the last that intrigues me most. Organised by country, I share in separate articles my favourite plating treasures that I found along my gastronomic pilgrimages. In particular, when the ceramicist studio spins the potter’s wheel nearby. Most restaurateurs use a varied palette of serving plates not limited to one artisan only, so I am highlighting those potters whose handwork stroke me the most.

For my favorite gastronomic ceramics, we will travel from France through Spain, the UK, both coasts of the United States, and finally across the Pacific to Japan.

French ceramics

Creativity without limits where the visual, tactile and the gustatory senses meet sparks a wonder so memorable that … While dining and later shopping at their boutiques often attached to their own workshops, my experience of either was elevated into something more connected, meaningful and mutually supportive. Needless to add, all of these ceramics are works of art and must be handled with care so all that handwashing by the restaurant staff skyrockets my respect for their labor.

NOTE: I received no sponsorship for my selections. All of the ceramics were discovered during my self-paid meals at the restaurants that I love. I selected only those that most wowed me. I liked these outstanding handmade pieces so much that I either purchased my favorites or was given them on my birthday by the restaurant as they were nowhere for sale. The generosity of El Celler de Can Roca deserves an immense gratitude!


Farm to table soba at Tamawarai Tokyo

Eating Japanese soba noodles at Tamawarai Tokyo is a slow food act with a Michelin stared attentiveness to quality. For most Japanese eating lunch at a sobaya is a rushed experience in any fast metropolis on the island country, but not at Tamawarai, where fresh and hand-cut “te-uchi soba” is slowly made and served in a snail pace. The meal starts in a waiting lounge just by the entrance, where the call for tables is being made, one at the time.
The traditional Japanese house where Tamawarai resides stands out in the contemporary residential core of the commercial Shibuia-Harajuku area. A short stroll will transfer you from the hive of caffeinated shopping to a serene spirit of zen.

Simplicity breaths out from its minimalist interior, only a handful of barren tables, laced with stiff, straight wooden chairs and a counter along the wall with small windows letting in just a pinch of daylight. The ubiquitous solitary diners at tiny Japanese eateries call to my mind a prison, be it an indulgent confinement to one’s mind and the meal served often with a muted non-engagement of the server. Some foodies revel in this focused experience. Whether it is meditative or in other way soothes their over-stimulated urban minds, only they know. To me, eating alone is enjoyable for a day or two, but then I seek company, a table full of people sharing the meal’s bountiful pleasure.
Despite the claustrophobic restraint, dining at Tamawarai Tokyo is a happy meal. Our lunch there was a shared affair with friends, injecting in an engaging conversation, plus ordering most of the menu and tasting it all, not wasting a morsel.
The meal at Tamawarai is not just about the long thin spaghetti-like, yet naturally gluten-free soba. You should order the splendid starters and sides. A group of five can share one of each. We doubled the favourites like the perfectly soft rolled egg omelet, the umami reeking baked shiro (sweet white) miso, the pickles or the freshly strained house tofu topped with a dab-full of fresh, pungent wasabi. In spring a cold fern salad is on the menu, their firm bite reminded me of blanched string beans. The grilled mackerel was good, but not outstanding, and can be ordered before or with your soba. We all agreed that the tofu and the miso overshadowed through their brilliant yumminess the main deal at Tamawarai – the buckwheat noodles.

For my main course I ordered the house speciality of zaru soba, soba served in a bamboo basket that’s dipped into a soy sauce. A side of crispy seaweed complemented the noodles with more umami. Two of our friends went for the chilled hiyakake soba in a delicate broth slurped like a cold soup. A hot broth version is “kake soba”. Farming its own buckwheat for the wholesome “Juuwari soba” noodles, so powerful on the palate and visually dark that you suspect if any other condiment was blended in, but as you chew slowly the softness of their soba made of 100% buckwheat flour ground daily in the kitchen, sates you fully with its high fibre content. At first, only a small serving is placed in the bamboo straw basket before you are asked about another round. This waste-reducing portioning is practical also for the diner who mindfully assesses his/her level of fullness.
You must come early if you want the tempura shrimp pickled in Saikyou miso and deep fried served over the soba, otherwise you can have the noodles just with the wasabi and soy sauce.
At Tamawarai sip on soba-cha, a caffeine-free warm beverage brewed from roasted buckwheat groats, that is confusingly referred to as tea. There is beer and sake too put for a complete Juuwari soba experience, try the vitamin-rich soba tea.
Tamawarai Tokyo: 5-23-3 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Lunch Wed-Fri: 11:30am-3pm; Sat 11:30am – 8pm & Sun: 11:30am – 4:30 pm; Dinner Wed-Fri: 6-9pm; Closed on Mondays
+ 81 3 5485 0025


Best Japanese tea rooms in Tokyo

Japan is well-known for its high quality green tea and Tokyo as the shoppers’ paradise. This continuously revised guide to Tokyo’s most noteworthy tea rooms and shops is not only for the serious tea lovers but also for the occasional tea-to-tellers. In the gargantuan maze of the megacity’s districts it is useful to sieve through and focus on the top league players of the Tokyo tea game.
Japanese tea
For anyone visiting the Japanese capital metropolis, sitting down and witnessing a tea ceremony (the real one takes hours as I witnessed in Kyoto), enjoying top quality gyokuro or just taking away a cup of the frothy matcha, deep roasted hojicha, new season’s sencha, smoky iribancha or the liquid tea popcorn known as genmaicha, will impart an authentic experience. Today, the trend-seeking young Japanese are not as much interested in tea, unless is has bubbles, cream and other good tea masking additions, even alcohol (Mixology Salon at Ginza Six shake sup inventive tea cocktails). The daily liquid bread of the past is also being challenged by coffee as hipster coffee labs, Starbucks et al. penetrated Tokyo. One man though, a seasoned local designer with a penchant for tradition, who has over the past decade revived the Japanese tea tradition. By employing his minimalist conceptual design, Schnichiro Ogata has rolled the Tokyo tea carpet for the young generations though his group Simplicity.
Higashiya's japanese sweets

Higashiya Ginza tea room

He designed the decade-old Higashiya that strung the contemporary design chord in Ginza. Reinventing the Japanese tea experience by introducing afternoon tea (2-5pm), exquisitely crafted tea accessories alongside their irresistible range of signature wagashi Japanese sweets at the Higashiya Ginza tea room, the lost tea souls are brought back to live.
Tokyo tea at Higashiya in Ginza
Higashiya dusted off the tea utensils in Schnichiro Ogata’s contemporary ceramic, bronze and copper works, while sustainable yet hardy and so pretty that multi-use comes naturally of the recycled paper cups, bowls and plates make any tea outing more ‘cool’. They roast houjicha in-house like their other sister tea rooms and houses in Tokyo. What sets Higashiya in Ginza apart is the fresh and approachable design as well as the six-seating private tea room available for extra charge. More details in my review.
 Pola building, 1 Chome-7-7 Ginza, Chuo, Tokyo
 +81 03 3538 3230
Tokyo teaJapanese wagshi sweets

Yakumo-Saryo

Yakumo-Saryo transfers you to the gardens of Kyoto. Where the past meets modernity, as you feet set on the stone-paved path, this peaceful Sabo teahouse takes you away from the city centre into the residential corner of Meguro. Here, immerse yourself into tea and wagashi sweets by Baishinka (also sold at the boutique there) in the peaceful tearoom. Reservations via e-mail are essential, and the full Japanese “Asacha” breakfasts are so popular that two weeks ahead may or may not secure your seat. Hiru kaiseki or “Goshincha” tea lunch set are served from noon. Dinner is like a private tea club by introduction only. Although the staff can be quite stiff, the pleasant tea sommelier lady worked at Higashiya for many years prior to moving here and kindly explains and recommends tea to your liking. Seasonal tea like sakura leaf blend in April, new season sencha, top rank gyokuro, aged teas and house-roasted houjicha will make your head spin with caffeinated pleasure. Breathe and savour the moment.
 〒152-0023 Tokyo, Meguro, 八雲3丁目4−7, Tokyo
 +81 03 5731 1620
contemporary Japanese designJapanese design

Sakurai Tea Experience

Sakurai Tea Experience is the newest addition into the Simplicity design group of tea-centric experiences. A small tea bar, hojicha roasting facility and a kitchen counter in one tiny room inside the Spiral Tower shopping mall in Omotesando. At the comfortable counter seats a simple seasonal bento lunch (we had water chestnuts with rice, pickles and grilled fish in April) is served, but most  Tokyo tea connoisseurs come for the extraordinary wagashi and tea set. With the lunch different teas will be served, from cold brewed gyokuro through your choice from some unusual with bacteria or mould inoculated teas (an acquired taste I warn you!) and other more purist Japanese teas. Alcoholic cocktails with tea, miso-aged camembert and seasoned nuts are also offered.
 港区Minamiaoyama, 5 Chome−6−23 スパイラルビル5F, Shibuia, Tokyo
 +81 03 6451 1539
Wagashi and Japanese tea
bento lunch

Cha Cha No Ma

Cha Cha No Ma is the most interesting tea room in Tokyo to learn about and taste diverse top quality sencha from Japan. Directly from the tea farms delivered Japanese tea is the freshest mid to late spring so ideally come to taste the unique flavours of each vintage between April and May, to stock yourself for the year ahead. Talk to the the in-house tea expert about the perfect tea for you. Read more about the unique tea philosophy of Yoshi Watada, who now also teaches tea classes in Yokohama and Oomiya, in my in-depth article. Cha Cha No Ma’s desserts or chocolates paired with tea make for a nice treat next to the silent break in the small contemporary Tokyo tea room.
 5-13-14 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0001
 +81 3 5468 8846
Tokyo tea at Cha Cha No Ma Japanese green tea preparationJapanese green tea

Ippodo

Originally from Kyoto, Ippodo is one of the oldest and most renown tea brands in Japan. In Tokyo, Ippodo has a branch in the busy shopping district in Marunouchi just steps away from the Imperial Palace. The original Ippodo store in Kyoto is also located in the proximity of the former Imperial Palace.
Ippodo_Featured-ImagesThere is a casual tea counter, where you can watch the tea being prepared, and a tea room, where you can sit at a table and savour your healthful cup with snacks. A bowl of matcha will be skilfully whisked at your table. Ideally, the matcha attains a frothy consistence like a top-notch Italian cappuccino. You can select from a wide range of Japanese teas. Premium gyokuro, various grades of powdered matcha (top quality for tea ceremony, lowest quality for cooking), and everyday teas like bancha, the smoky iribancha (sold in giant sacks to their wide global fanbase of customers), hojicha and a plethora of refreshing senchas are all sold there.
The mostly bi-lingual tea experts behind the counter advise you on anything you might want to know about Japanese tea. Sparing later disappointment, most teas can be tasted before you buy. Take-away is available.
 Kokusai Building, 1F, 3-1-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, 100-0005 Tokyo‎
 +81 03 6212 0202
Ippodo has a small shop cum tea to go located just under the Michelin stared kaiseki restaurant Kajitsu in New York.

Jugetsudo

Another Japanese tea purveyor that has stretched across the borders of Japan is Jugetsudo. The Jugetsudo Tokyo tea brand was founded by the Maruyama family, that has been sourcing best seaweed in Japan since 1854. Their seaweed shop is still located at the renown Tsukiji Chuo-ku market, but now it is also joined by a tea house with an authentically rustic feel that is comforting. Order one of the tea sets served with the in-house sweets, buy tea utensils, seaweed or tea. The powdered matcha with yuzu is intriguing and refreshing.
Tokyo tea Jugetsudo at Tsukiji
Jugetsudo at Tsukiji tea and dessert set
I usually have a pot of their roasted hojicha with a superb green tea ‘Mont Blanc’ pastry. Inspired by the French creamy chestnut dessert the “white Mountain” cake was adopted by this tea house that now also has a tiny branch in the Paris’ edgy Saint Germain. The Japanese admiration of French wine, food and fashion meet in the sweet realm. Another branch of Jugetsudo in Tokyo is inside the building behind the Kabukiza theatre. It is larger and more contemporary than its Tsukiji home.
 Tsukiji Kyoeikai Building 1F, 4-7-5 Tskukiji, Chuo-ku, 104-0045 Tokyo
 +81 03 35474747
Japanese Garden in Tokyo
For a green Tokyo tea experience visit the Edo era Happo-en garden. Inside, the Muan Japanese tea house is enjoyable on a sunny and warm day in the surrounding traditional Japanese garden. Here, enter “Sado“, the ancient practice of relaxation and drinking tea. The tea master demonstrates the etiquette and spirit of the classical tea ceremony. You can select from tasting either the green powdered matcha made traditionally (2100 Yen, reservation required) or enjoy a quick tea with sweets (no reservation 840 yen).
 1-1-1 Shirokanedai, Minato-ku, 108-8631 Tokyo
 +81 63 3443 3111


Cha Cha No Ma: tea from an expert with a bento lunch in Tokyo

Cha Cha No Ma literally means a dining room where tea is served. Hidden from the sights of the Tokyo’s manic shoppers in the narrow maze of shopping cul-de-sacs in Omotesando, the Tokyo’s most hip and trendy shopping district, the small and cosy tea room is a balancing escape from the fast-life in Tokyo.
Ch Cha No Ma in OmotesandoCha Cha No Ma Japanese green tea preparation

Enjoying Japanese green tea from sencha specialist

Yoshi Watada, Cha² No Ma founder and certified ‘Japanese Tea Instructor’ by the Green Tea Institute in Shizuoka, personally selects each year about 30 types of tea for his store, tea room and a casual diner in one. All of his tea is hand-picked mostly from Shizuoka, the largest tea growing prefecture in Japan. More, he provides you with little tasting cards for each tea, so you remeber which one you liked.
Japanese green tea
Mr Watada also authored a book on tea in 2009, an English translation of which is now in the works. While, he is aware of the long tradition of Japanese tea drinking, he adjusted the methods of preparation of the local green tea, sencha, his passion, in particular. Adjusting it to the modern time, he employs cold dripping through ice cubes, adding ice into brewed warm tea, serving it with sparkling water or steeped tea leafs on ice cubes, all alongside the traditional hot water brewing (80ºC max for green tea). You an witness his complex tea ‘ceremonies’ at Cha² No Ma or if you read Japanese, get his book. As I tasted a number of different teas in his suggested preparations as well as the usual way, I can conclude, that I was bemused how differently the same tea could taste! Its sweetness, level of bitterness as well as body (mouthful) can be highlighted or suppressed depending on which preparation is selected. The brewing temperature, as well as the length of steeping the tea leafs, affect the flavour tremendously. You can spoil your pot of tea so easily, so be careful!

The Japanese tea culture: the past meets modern fast times

He explained to me how different is the contemporary Japanese tea culture from the traditional. The oldest tea style, popularized by the Japan’s father of tea ceremony Sen Ryukyu, was the powdered matcha whisked into a fluffy beverage seved in a wide bowl. As tea became commercialised, it is now drunk in an informal style anywhere from Starbucks to a specialist matcha ‘fast-drinks’ chains such as Nana Tea in Tokyo. The formal tea ceremony is mostly performed for tourists. Still, the most popular daily tea in Japan is bancha, or tea that is drunk with a meal.
The tea barrista prefers sencha, a new style of steamed Japanese tea which can differ so widely that it captured his curiosity. At his cafe, he serves pre-selected varieties of a single farm and type every vintage. Although he tends to keep the same picks every year, tea like wine differs from a vintage to vintage, and this fascinates him. He even sells some vintage sencha such as the that I purchased recently.

Savor sencha at Cha Cha No Ma

Ryusei is a Japanese native wild tea tree grown and hand-picked by the farmer Mr. Tsukiji. Since it is a wild tea, the size of the leafs and the flavour of the brew can differ from a batch to batch. Unlike most of the steamed Japanese green teas, it benefits from multiple brewing as with each pouring of hot water a new fragrance reveals itself. Try it warmly brewed, in an ice-drip-preparation or with ice cubes added into the glass. The 2012 vintage of a “deep genuine taste” was very powerful in all dimensions, a strong bitterness, big body and also pronounced sweetness that shows best if you prepare the tea through the ice-drip method. After a coupple of brews I realised that it should be steeped for a very short time in the warm pot, 30s max.!
Cha Cha No Ma tearoom in Tokyo
The bestseller is Aoi Tori of the Sofu kind. This hard-stem young tea was hand-picked and steamed, and because of it not being as bitter and having a smooth flavour, it became the friendliest of all senchas at Cha² No Ma. Also grown by Mr. Tsukiji in Shizuoka, it has a “fragrance taking you up in the clear blue sky“.
I like Sakuya, the “noble atmosphere” evoking steamed tea of the Koshun type. It was grown without the use pesticides, is balanced, floral and very clear, so it drinks smoothly. Like the Ryusei, it can be appreciated in multiple brews as the flavour changes with each pouring of fresh water.
If you like naturally more sweet green tea, than try Tougenkyo also of the Koshun type, but with more pronounced peach scents, particilarly when served cold.
The Ujigyokuro is generally the highest grade of green tea in Japan. The tea bushes are shaded from the sun before harvesting so the chlorophyll levels are increased yielding brigter green leaves with a more sweet, rather than bitter taste. The first harvest late in April and May produces the highest quality of this tea. The vigour of the spring shows in the bright and energising flavour. Mr Watada likes to serve it in all his four ways. Unlike for sencha, the warm pot should be steeped in a maximum temperature of 60ºC.
Aged sencha from JapanBuddhist monk having tea
At his cafe cum tea house, he will happily explain, in his slow yet adorable English, anything about Japanese tea, shows you the various preparations and highlights the impact on the taste of each tea. He is not as keen on having certified organic teas. After talking with many local producers, for the quality and taste to be assured annually a little bit of “medicine” [aka pesticides] is generally used in Japan. He also added though, that the good farmers do not add any chemicals if the weather conditions of a certain year are favourable.
The food for lunch is always fresh and healthy. The bento-style plates in the daily set-lunch menu with three choices from the main plate, one of them always vegetarian, one usually a fish and the third a meat course. All served with rice, a soup, some tsukemono (pickles), a mildly sweet dessert and a barley porridge. A typical cup of bancha and a glass of iced green tea are included in the price. We honored the Japanese tea pioneers, the Buddhist monks, who brought tea from China to Japan in about 800 AD as we usually choose the vegetarian meal. A bowl of sesonal steamed mushrooms and veggies is usually served in this veggie bento.
Cha Cha No Ma tearoom in Tokyo
As is a Japanese custom, sweets are also available to accompany your pot of tea. We had matcha mochi, the sticky morsels made of gooey flour, water and covered in powdered green tea. They make for a nice pairing with green tea.
When looking for the discreet tea room, you may get lost in translation as it often happens in Japan. My advice is to look at the Chanel and Dior boutiques alongside the main shopping Avenue in Omotesando, then turn into the side alley between them. Lunchtime is very popular with locals coming from the offices in the area, so you better book. If you want to enjoy just tea with some sweets, then better come outside the lunch hours so you can chat about the tea with the expert.
5-13-14 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0001
Mon-Sun: 11am-7pm
 +81 3 5468 8846 chachanoma.com


Sushi-Ya Ishiyama: exotic seafood in edomae sushi

The youthful Japanese chef Takao Ishiya of former Sushi-Ya has worked at top three Michelin-starred sushi restaurants in Tokyo (Saito) before his  pursuit of his own seafood and rice-paved road. The Shinjuku born and raised sushi master believes in the spirit of his city and instead of venturing into the fashionable Japanese restaurants abroad, he literally holed his first start up eatery in an undefined alley inside the dining kingdom of Ginza. His new venue since 2018 is more upscale, called after his last name Ishiyama, but the food is even better.
exotic seafood at Ishiyama sushiJapanese art
The tiny room cum sushi bar seats only seven to eight diners, who entrust themselves into the chef’s hands and skills in the omakase sequence of superb morsels of fresh ocean produce. Despite its sombre beige setting, the place hums with a very pleasant and creative zeal. The only decoration is a drawing of a young geisha facing the chef’s stage that hints at humbleness and mystery, no need for more as Takeo-san performs magic with his hands and focused gaze.

sushi chef Ishiyama

Takao Ishiya with LMB editor Radka Beach

At Sushiya zipping your mouth and bowing in front of the chef as if you were visiting a Buddhist shrine, is responded with the chef’s raised eyebrows. Unlike many of the older serious sushi chefs in Japan, the young Takeo is open to talk and his good-hearted spirit turns any meal at Ishiyama into an interactive and friendly occasion.

As a foreigner, be ready for some adventurous pieces of sushi at Ishiyama. You better be a real gourmand, open to trying anything. Do not look, just eat, since the impressions of taste will persuade your brain that sometimes weird food is worth trying. Cod fish sperm (Grilled Shirako also known as Milt), sea creatures served with their livers, blood cockle, but you will also get simple but very good quality cuts of the usual bonito, fatty tuna, mackerel or sardine.
Ma-aji sushi at IshiyamaBonito sashimi at Ishiyama
Ma-aji, Japanese Jack Mackerel, looks similar to a sardine, but it tastes more subtle. As is typical for edo-mae (Tokyo-style) sushi it is served cut in specific pattern opening the fish flesh up to diced chives and ginger. Achieving its peak flavour in summer, the fall yields more fat and smooth taste. By all the sushi chefs loved Bonito was cut and served in three levels of rawness. The feast for the palate and discovery of one fish’s potential.
Some never-seen-before items arrived from the kitchen right in front of us at Ishiyama. Co-diners from Hong Kong, ahead in their omakase, did us a great favour when they begged the chef not to tell us what that twisted baked softly textured UFO (= Unidentified Food Object) was before we cleaned up our plates. I enjoyed the rich and smooth texture of the Cod Fish Sperm seasoned with black pepper enormously, but if I knew ahead my brain would surely react with prejudice. Tasting it au nature, not covered in a tempura batter as I had it before at Rokkaku’s izakaya, expanded the boundaries of the weirdest food I put into my mouth.
Fatty tuna sushi at Sushiya Ishiyamaomakase sushi at Sushiya Ishiyama
The Akagai Blood Cockle was served with its black liver. A sip of sake helped to balance the salty string of the outer membrane, while its distinct crunchiness can alienate some diners. Another less usual citizen of the sea, Shako or the purple striped large Mantis Shrimp was sweeter in the late autumn because of its higher fat content. The soft yet slightly dry texture reminded me of a crab.
Saw-edged Perch, Ara, is starting to swim onto the sushi chef’s menus in late fall, Sushiya Ishiyama including. This white wish is often served with yuzu skin, and tastes very clean. While sometimes I find it boring, at Ishiyama I enjoyed its freshness.

No foreplay, the chef went straight to serving Chu-toro, the fattiest tuna. During this meal, I learned, that there is a huge difference in how the fat can be distributed in one cut of fish, and that most chefs do not pay too much attention to this. Takeo meticulously selected evenly marbled morsel of melting meaty delicacy. Like a scoop of not too frozen gelato, slowly let the flavours unwind. Applause!
Salmon Roe, Ikura, peaking in November and most Japanese restaurants we dined at during our trip served it in their preferred way. At Sushi Yoshitake, ikura was served in a typical layer atop a rice and nori bun, but at Sushiya Ishiyama we got it straight. Subtle shavings of yuzu skin and a bowl were its only companions. No hindrance to its highest potential, delicious.
 Ikura at Sushiya Ishiyama in TokyoOmakase sushi at Sushiya Ishiyama
Chef Ishiyama is bold, and his love of chives reflects itself on the plates. His preferred greens are diced, chopped or wrapped inside a slice of sashimi, but only when they add something, not simply for decoration.
Anago is highly prized in Japan. The sea Conger Eel is white in contrast to its more murky river species and it was served twice, once grilled on a skewer and plated with cod liver, chives in soy sauce, and later pure, just grilled on a bun of sushi rice. Both were the best preparations of eel we had to date.
Omakase sushiJapanese egg custard at Ishiyama
To finish, the usually boring (for us) egg custard Tamago, got a beautifying makeover in the chef’s hands. Tender, almost gelatinous and creamy like a Crème brûlée, this egg pudding slipped smoothly through our lips.
During our chat with chef Ishiyama and our desire to come back for a lunch, we learned that also children aged over 7 years are welcome on Sundays. If your kid is a serious connoisseur of food, consider a treat here in Tokyo.

The price is high, but Ishiyama charges less than most of the two and three-star spots in town. The restaurant can be very tricky to find, but once you spot an Apple store in Ginza, take second right alley and you will be rewarded by an excellent food.

This new location of Sushi Ishiyama is on this business card bellow. Practical to show your taxi driver.

Ishiyama
🕗  Tue-Sun: Lunch 12noon-2pm; Dinner 5pm-10pm.
✉  Chuo-ku Ginza near the Apple Store, Sushi Ishiyama (鮨 いしやま) 4F, 3-3-6 Ginza, Tokyo
☏ +(81) 03 3538 3969 


Kanda: the art of modern kaiseki in Tokyo

Kanda is not just a district in Tokyo and a name for one of its subway stations, but also the last name of a Three Michelin stared chef Hiroyuki Kanda and his namesake restaurant. Since the guide’s inauguration, Kanda has been a constant Three star laureate, mainly because of the chef’s creating his own version of the artful kaiseki in modern Tokyo.
The chef Hiroyuki Kanda behind the counter
As it is more common for restaurants in Tokyo, Kanda is located is an apartment building, and not obvious to a non-japanese speaker. Getting the exact address to a taxi driver helps as he can navigate you in this discreet small residential inlet in the midst of the upscale maze of the Roppongi district. Do not hesitate to enter inside the door facing you right on ground floor.
Hiroyuki Kanda speaks also English and French, which is a welcome news for foreign visitors since it is rare for the japanese chefs to profess other languages than their mother tongue.
Creamy tofu bowl with seafood and vegetable jelly
The chef stands firmly behind his innovations. Emboldened by his experiences in France and renowned restaurants in Japan he seems proud to stream away from tradition. Although he serves most of the established kaiseki courses, he creates his own order.
There is no printed menu and you will be served about 10 courses one after another, so if you are interested in what is in your bowl inquire as the food is being served.
Mukozuke of white fish sashimi with its liver & umeboshi sauce
His hassun traditionally setting the seasonal theme was not an assortment of miniature dishes, but rather a piece of snow crab baked with its hearty roe. I have eaten this crab in almost every set menu during my two weeks in Japan and while Kanda’s take measured up to most of the others, it was not superior. Then we were served the first warm dish that arrived in a navy blue ornamented porcelain bowl. On the bottom was a delicate creamy tofu mixed with seafood and baby mushrooms topped with a spring onion jelly. Smooth texture and more pronounced taste than in similar dishes served at the zen vegetarian shojin ryori style eateries in Kyoto.
Yakimono: broiled fish at Kanda
The mukozuke, usually a seasonal sashimi were four thin cuts of white fish (cod – presumably Higetara Cod variety) plated together with its silky liver or sperm sacs (the chef translated it after pondering a while as liver, but it is more common in Japan to serve the popular delicacy of the cod’s sperm sacs known as ‘shirako’), diced green spring onion and its clear thin rings & umeboshi (japanese pickled plum) sauce served on a side.
Lidded clear broth with shrimp, mushroom & vegetables at Kanda
While we were still in a sensual ecstasy from the dish, what followed was a genial, while a simple combination, of white Alba truffles shaved on bonito tuna (‘katsuo‘ or skipjack) nigiri sushi. Yakimono, a seasonal grilled fish came after. Adorned with ginkgo nuts and colorful autumnal maple leafs it reminded me the most of the traditional kaiseki dishes served at Kikunoi in Kyoto.
The futamono of lidded clear dashi broth with shrimp, fish ball, matsutake mushroom and leafy greens displayed the pure flavors and quality of each of the ingredients and it was far from boring. The smoky dashi highlighted wonderfully the produce of the land and sea.
Japanese beef at Kanda
A very modern pinnacle of the kaiseki tasting menu of the night was the slightly grilled, almost rare, beef steak enveloped in a breadcrumb crust. It was succulent and meaty, unlike the fatty wagyu, often considered the most desired type of Japanese steak, because of its extreme marbling. It seems though, that most refined eaters prefer a leaner cuts, so they can taste more of the meat. Served with a wild bunch of greens and a dollop of spicy mustard the plate was well-balanced. In a kaiseki meal it can be classified as shiizakana, a simple dish showcasing the best ingredients the chef managed to acquire.
Those of you that drink wine or sake during dinner still had space for more food, so we welcomed the gohan of a small bowl of cooked rice topped with sticky shrimps. The shrimps were sweet and savory at the same time, but also more simple, which is welcomed by the end of a meal.
Handmade winelist at Kanda
The handmade book-like wine list is very personal and reveals the chef’s background spent in France. Although the French wines (mostly Burgundy and Bordeaux; we had a Grand Echezaux that was very well priced) are in majority, there are some California icons such as Ridge Monte Bello or the ridiculously priced Screaming Eagle as well as Australian beauties like a Pinot Noir from Paul Lato, that is particularly interesting. Most of the wine labels are glued on each page accompanied by a hand-written price. The chef is on hand to recommend a bottle for you if you cannot decide.
The sake selection is also impressive, larger at most sushi restaurants in town. We went for an unpasteurized medium bodied sake, the name of which these of you who can read Japanese can puzzle out (it is the common problem with sake that the labels are only in Japanese).
Sake at Kanda
Our meal had still two more dishes lined up. The perfect sweet three dots as if the story should continue – perhaps on your next visit to Kanda – in the form of mizumono after the meal, was first a fruity custard with a cup of Japanese green tea and the final gong sounded in a superb not too sweet buckwheat ice cream. I could easily have had two scoops of that!
Buckwheat ice cream at Kanda
With its three Michelin star badge, Kanda is expensive, but for real foodies it is worth savoring its modern approach to this very traditional Japanese culinary art. Moreover, the service is very personal, since the main room has only one perfectly polished wooden counter seating eight, and only one small private room. The limited seating makes it challenging to reserve as well as more exclusive like some of the excellent sushi restaurants in town.
Address: 3-6-34 Moto-azabu, Minato, Tokyo 106-0046, Japan
Contact: Tel: +(81) 03 5786 0150
Opening hours: Daily for dinner except Sunday & holidays: 6pm-10pm


Sushi Yoshitake: the best of sea on land in Tokyo sushi

Yoshitake is an exclusive member of the coveted club reserved solely for three-Michelin-stared sushi chefs in Ginza. Serving Edo-mae sushi right in front of you, all matching the seasonally changing Japanese ceramics is as much a performance as it is a gustatory pleasure. Although his nigiri sushi is traditional, the chef’s consistently superb otsumami (snacks) and slight twists of the sauces lifts this omakase from your overloaded memory of raw fish sampling in Japan. The tiny restaurant is hidden, like most of its fish-centered siblings in this ultra-dense area, inside a nondescript building behind a Japanese sign, confusing even local taxi drivers. Two small but comfortable and simply elegant rooms accommodate a maximum of 11 diners. The larger room is reserved for Yoshitake-sen, and the more private is served by his protegee.
Sushi chef at Yoshitake preparing sushi
Watching Yoshitake or his longtime honed co-chef (above) slicing and assembling each plate is entertaining for foreigners even more since most of the staff here are very friendly and speak English, a rarity at restaurants in Japan. The sushi counters are made from a single slab of hinoki (cypress) wood, highly praised for its finesse.
The omakase starts with interesting, seafood-based snacks (otsumami) like the highly seasonal November Koubako female crab with its roe jelly, followed by a number of sashimi plates, which in the fall could be Ika (delicate squid), Kanpachi (amberjack), Saba (mackerel) or other seasonal fish.
More otsumami such as the warm Tender octopus and in its seasonal peak juicy and smooth Ikura (salmon roe) sprinkled atop rice in a cup preceded the highlight of the dinner, the Steamed abalone with Liver sauce.
Smoked bonito tuna at Yoshitake sushi
The steamed and sliced precious Awabi (abalone) was served with an oddly olive-meets-seaweed coloured sauce of the abalone’s liver and other ‘secret’ ingredients. The tender, silky smooth texture of such perfectly cooked flesh, dipped in the thick and intensely rich sauce, was one of the best dishes of my indulgent life. If you show signs of heavenly bliss as we did, for the leftover sauce you get a small cup of rice to mix it up. The rice is savoury, seasoned with red vinegar as for all of the chef’s sushi.
The Seared Bonito sashimi was repeatedly (I’ve dined at Yoshitake for three consecutive autumns) the best I have ever had and is always served in November. Its slightly smoked crispy skin melts the underlying fat and the meaty raw centre contrasts wonderfully with its chewy texture. Topped with finely diced pea shoots that like a feather on flesh lift up the fish up to soaring heights.
Steamed egg custard in a tiny cup layered with male crab warms you up for the second part of the omakase tasting – about nine bites of seasonal nigiri sushi (O-Toro and Chu-Toro are always included) closed off by Temaki tuna hand roll. A slice of Tamago, at Yoshitake styled like a slightly sweet rolled omelette seasoned with soy sauce and rice vinegar as in Japanese breakfast egg omelette, cleans up your palate from all that fishiness. It arrives customarily to mark the end of the set tasting. If you want more sushi, the chef will ask you before serving it, and will charge each extra piece.
A small bowl of the final miso-based Owan soup settles the stomach as does a cup of green or roasted hojicha tea that is usually served at the end.
Private sushi counter at YoshitakeAbalone with its liver sauce at Sushi Yoshitake
This eight-to-ten seats sushi counter differs significantly from the legendary ultra-casual Sukiyabashi Jiro Honten, which serves some 20 courses of nigiri omakase in less than 20 minutes. Unfortunately, Jiro’s medialized sushi had become the ultimate fast food for millionaires, and this is why I prefer Yoshitake where you will be treated as an honourable guest having at least two hours to spare on his sushi counter.
Since Jiro is charging a very high price some diners might be disappointed for the lack of creativity, innovation and time reserved for your enjoyment, the qualities Yoshitake possesses. It is important to mention though that it is the chef’s skill with the knife and his ability to get the best produce that is the most regarded in a master sushi chef. The top hats can only be thus found in Japan, in Tokyo as the sushi’s birthplace in particular.
Snow crab with its roe at Sushi Yoshitake
While acquiring top produce on the daily auction at the Tsukiji market, the chef’s skill is being assessed in terms of technique and appearance. Yoshitake ticked all the boxes for the inspectors as well as for picky diners like me. He not only has these thousands-hours-honed skills, but he had imprinted his own stamp in the highly competitive empire of Tokyo sushi establishments.
Mackerel sushi at Yoshitake
Some sushis remain simple showcasing only their pure nature while in others the fish is slightly marinated. The Mackerel benefitted from being marinated in vinaigrette, reminding me of the herring served with pickles in Scandinavia. This North Sea evoking glistening silvery fish looked as if it jumped into a costume from the Star Trek film series. The chef also made a Mackerel roll more appealing, adding a zesty shiso leaf and crispy roe inside turned it into a one bite delicacy.
The Hokkaido uni that can be found year around was presented in two textures and two servings, on a bun of rice and wrapped in a sheet of crispy seaweed. On the top the more mature, dense and defined uni, while underneath an almost liquid, but like a raw egg-yolk rich and complex composition of intense fragrances.
Mackerel roll at sushi Yoshitake
As is common for sushi, the most fit drinks are beer or sake, but wine is increasingly also being offered. The wine selection is typically limited, but thoughtful. Champagne, Burgundies, but also some New World wines that caught the palate of the chef comprising the refined selection. Once we had a bottle of a village Puligny-Montrachet, a smart choice of a well-rounded unfiltered Chardonnay with white flowers, green apple and mineral freshness.
Puligny-Montrachet at Sushi Yoshitake in TokyoSake at Sushi Yoshitake in Tokyo
These days we prefer sake with sushi. The choices are limited but span from driest to the sweetest and fruity. We like the middle ground that is balanced, full-bodied, and smooth, often unpasteurized sake consumed cold – the daiginjo style, in which over 50% of rice is polished away from the kernels during its production. The above sake fits our taste.
Although it is tough to get a seat at a three-star restaurant in Tokyo, a last minute cancellation (100% must be paid when the reservation is made) and establishing personal contact with the chef, who remembers your name, are key to success.
Address: 3F, Suzuryu Bldg, 8-7-19 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Contact: +(81) 03-6253-7331
Opening hours: Only for dinner from Mon-Sat: 6 pm first & 8:30 for the second seating. Closed for holidays.
Credit cards ar accepted and there is a 100% cancellation policy from the previous day of your reservation.


Ginza Sushi Aoki: Michelin-awarded simplicity for skill and top quality ingredients in Tokyo

The master sushi chef Toshikatsu Aoki took over his father’s restaurant SUSHI AOKI in 1993. On weekdays he operates his restaurant in Ginza and on Sundays at his other branch in the Nishi-Azabu neighbourhood, both in Tokyo. GINZA SUSHI AOKI was awarded one star in the Tokyo Michelin Guide for 4 consecutive years not for being original in combining uncommon multiple ingredients as Michelin often ranks high in the West, but for being faithful to the traditional mastery of edomae sushi (Tokyo used to be titled Edo) employing the finest available ingredients.
Uni sea urchin sushi at Ginza Sushi Aoki
Sushi chef at Ginza Sushi Aoki in action
Cuisine: Japanese sushi and tsumami (snack) rice bowls (layered with fish, seafood, meat or vegetables) for lunch, omakase nigiri sushi and sashimi adjustable to guest’s requirements for dinner.
Visit: November 2013
Price: Very high (For lunch it is much cheaper as multiple set menus are available although these have to be paid in cash; for dinner credit cards can be used – Standard:¥10,00; Special:¥15,000; Deluxe:¥20,000 – the higher the price is, the better quality of the ingredients).
White fish sashimi
You can watch the art of slicing, dicing, chopping, forming and arranging of the sushi rice buns and rolls right in front of you as your chef prepares all the raw courses behind the wooden counter. Simple interior, no windows, natural colours, all spread across several floors with a private room that accommodates up to 10 people. Like most sushi spots in Tokyo, it is very casual.
Spanish mackerel sashimi at Ginza Sushi Aoki
Seasonal and daily changing sushi toppings are selected according to the freshest ingredients that the chef finds every morning (except Sunday) on the legendary Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo. Both tsumami or nigiri zushi (sushi) can be adjusted to your request. “Tsumami” is a relish that is said to go well with alcoholic beverages, so sake flows constantly. I like to get a mix of sashimi and sushi, otherwise it is just too much rice and some fish stands out better just sliced like sashimi.
 Squid sashimi
The best Spanish mackerel sashimi I have eaten to date was at Sushi Aoki. The squid looked like a chewy mushroom, but was tender and crisp, far from being a sea version of a marshmallow.
Marinated scallops, oysters and octopus
For some, this might be an adventurous course. Nevertheless, the trio of marinated oysters, scallops and octopus is delightful so shed any worries and dive in as more quirky food is about to come. The smoked squid may look unattractive, but not everything lacking its visual appeal is bad on the palate. Like with people, getting to know these sea creatures through more senses, one concludes how wonderful they are!
Smoked squid
In between all these diverse plates refreshing one’s palate with a mouthful of zesty ginger is  must. At Sushi Aoki they serve the palate invigorating, in vinegar marinated ginger cut in chunks, not grated.
Fresh chunks of ginger
The white fluke on a rice bun melted softly in my mouth, and I am reminded of the art of making the perfect rice for sushi. Each chef has his own recipe and his own preferred rice. Moreover, there are hundreds or perhaps even thousands of different types of rice that change from the field to the producer polishing the rice, which is challenging for anyone seeking the perfect texture and stickiness needed for the best sushi rice. At Sushi Aoki they found the prefect rice. Sticky enough to keep shape, yet not mushy with grains sensed on the palate.
White fish sushi
After a superb white sea eel aka sawani, chu- and o-toro aka medium fat and fatty tuna, and a squid sushi came the crème de la crème of our dinner, the exquisite Hokkaido uni. There are no words to perfectly describe its delicate, almost orgasmic texture. One must just try the unctuous contents of the spiky sea urchin and allow for this divine feeling penetrate each cell of the body – from the mouth to belly, the uni moves you like a lasting vibration of a guitar string.
Vegetarian roll and egg tamago at Ginza Sushi Aoki
Concluding the multi-course omakase dinner with an unexpectedly tasty vegetarian roll. Usually, I find the cucumber rolls quite boring, but this one had savoury Japanese pickles included as well. The omnipresent tamago – a sweet egg omelet shaped into a cake that you either love or hate – is customarily served at the end of each traditional omakase course. At Sushi Aoki this combo naturally swung from the seafood to the warm tea served to sooth your belly before moving on.
Sake with gold leaf
Drinks: There are not many wines on the list, but if you insist on some alcoholic grape-based tipple, you will find a good match. The sake selection is much better and worth exploring. Let the server recommend you the right sake according to your taste preferences. Do you like it more sweet, stronger or rather plummy, fruity? At Sushi Aoki they will find the best drinking partner to accompany your meal. Green tea is served upon request throughout the dinner.
I dined at the Ginza location.
 Takahashi Building, 2nd Floor, 7-4, Ginza 6-chome, Chuo-ku, Tokyo, Japan.
 Lunch:12:00 – 14:00; Dinner:17:00 – 22:00; Closed during the New Year Holidays
Palais Royal Building, 1st Floor, 23-7, Nishi-Azabu 3-chome, Minato-ku, Tokyo, Japan.
 Lunch:12:00 – 14:00; Dinner: 18:00 – 23:00
+81 332891044


Bvlgari brings chocolate gems to Tokyo

The luxurious Italian jewellery house Bvlgari upped its game for the sweet connoisseurs by introducing a high-end range of chocolate confectionery in Japan. The perfectly moulded morsels of Bvlgari chocolate are essentially filled with bespoke Italian and Japanese ingredients coated in dark, milk or white chocolate couverture.
Bvlgari Chocolates
From Japanese popular flavours like yuzu and chestnuts, to very Italianate, but for chocolate rather unusual mascarpone, vintage balsamic vinegar and dried pancetta, Bvlgari plays its own league in the sport of chocolate making. The favourites are the round printed “Bvlgari Bvlgari” chocolate gems seasonally crafted with the finest Italian and Japanese ingredients (1,500 yen/piece). Now, in the fall, the flavours of citrusy yuzu and matcha green tea are available. Bridal white Bvlgari chocolate can be personalised to both groom’s and bride’s requirements for their special day.
Bvlgari Chocolates in Tokyo
The line is uniquely blended as well. I tried and loved the Tomato, creamy mascarpone cheese and white chocolate ganache with Madagascar cacao bean dark chocolate (64%). Other temptations are : Dried figs, vintage balsamic vinegar, milk chocolate ganache coated in dark Venezuelan chocolate (55%); Saffron, chestnut from Ehime and dark chocolate ganache enrobed in bitter Venezuelan cacao (55%); Black pepper, dried pancetta and gorgonzola blue cheese ganache in Indonesian bean milk chocolate (41%); and many more some seasonally updated.
Bvlgari chocolate box
Luxurious Chocolates and ultra high-end champagne go naturally hand in hand, so pairing the sweet Bvlgari treats with Dom Perignon and Krug champagnes is a wonderful idea. Almost anyone would be pleased by such a pompous gift. I would pair the lighter types, such as white and milk chocolates, the cheese and nut based ganaches, pralines and truffles with the fizz. The intensity of some of the dark chocolates, especially those filled with liquors, does not overpower the beauty of the drink.
Bvlgari chocolates with Krug
Prestigious location in Ginza on the 10th floor of the Bvlgari house inside the chic Bvlgari Il Cafe underlines the elevated message to luxury-seeking customers.
 東京都中央区銀座 2-7-12 ブルガリ銀座タワー10F Chuo, Ginza, 104-0061 Tokyo, Japan.
 Daily 12noon-8pm. Closed on holidays.


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