Exploring the Tokyo Dining Scene

Saturday, September 29th , 2018

tokyo 2018 Koishikawa Korakuen flowers and lake-crop-v2.JPG

Tokyo is the food capital of the world, with more Michelin starred restaurants than any other city. No one really knows how many restaurants exist in Tokyo, but the local restaurant website Tabelog lists over 140,000, and there are certainly others without Tabelog listings (I went to one on this trip). It is a vast, sprawling, cosmopolitan city with half a million foreign residents from around the world, so you can find cuisine from just about anywhere. As a tourist it can seem a bit overwhelming, but the people are remarkably welcoming to visitors, and although the street numbering is tricky, finding things is not too hard since people routinely come up and help you if you look remotely lost. Trains, buses and ATM machines have signs in Roman characters (romaji) as well as the Japanese scripts, and at least some level of English is spoken by many people these days, especially by younger people. As a bonus, crime is almost nonexistent (except organised crime), with people disconcertingly leaving valuables on open air tables at coffee shops to wander around, returning later certain that their handbags, phones and computers will remain untouched. 

I first visited Japan in 1996 and it was a lot more challenging, with little English spoken and no Google maps to guide you around. If you are here to visit restaurants then stay in either the Ginza or Roppongi, or possibly Shibuya, as the majority of destination restaurants are either in these areas or nearby, and Tokyo is a big place. We had another excellent stay in the Grand Hyatt in the Roppongi Hills complex, which has the bonus of easy access to a smart shopping centre and is placed on top of a subway station. Although Tokyo doesn’t have the same variety of temples and gardens that Kyoto has, there are still some impressive parks and gardens such as Koishikawa Korakuen (pictured). If you visit the city then don’t miss out on the food halls of the great department stores, such as the flagship Mitsukoshi in Nihonbashi. Here you will find beautifully displayed, high quality food of all kinds, including the famous gift-wrapped melons at ambitious prices.

We had quite an extended stay here this time, and were able to try a lot of restaurants that were new to me, as well as returning to some old favourites. In the first week I tried Mimosa, a Michelin starred Chinese restaurant and Fire Whole 4000, a Sichuan barbecue place. We had a superb Italian meal at Il Ristorante in the Ginza, which was even better than my previous visit. We tried French food at Le Sputnik and returned to Atelier Robuchon. I also enjoyed excellent pizza at Savoy and an even better one at the Pizza Bar on the 38th. I also had some tonkatsu at Tonta, a highly rated tonkatsu restaurant. To round off the week I tried Sushi Kimura, which is known for its aged sushi.

Next week I will continue with further highlights from Tokyo.