3-15-5 Nihobashi-Ningyocho, Chou-ku, Tokyo, Japan

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This was originally a geisha house, established in 1912. Even by Tokyo standards it is hidden, tucked away down an uninviting alley. However once you find it the entrance is very pretty, an inviting path with a mini garden leading into the traditional building. Waitresses are in traditional formal Japanese dress, and this is a place where you take your shoes off on arrival. There are 11 rooms, each one entirely private, with the sunken seating called horigotatsu (also used in Sake No Hana in London). Each room has a little private garden. Service is from two dedicated waitresses, and was both faultless and friendly.

The dining style is the formal kaiseki, which has many small courses to reflect different tastes, colours, textures and cooking styles. We began with salmon between slices of lotus root, a block of shrimp dumpling paste, a square of omelette with nori seaweed, cucurbit seasoning with kelp and some steamed and sadly chewy abalone. To be honest none of this was very appealing, any more than the ado plant, dried fish ovary and vinegared mioga ginger served with it.

A clear soup of rock trout also had a lotus root wrapped with bean curd skin and warabi plant. The soup itself was fine but the fish was badly overcooked. Sashimi of striped jack and flathead did not compare at all well with the best sashimi we had over the previous days. The tuna was the medium fatty kind, yet one piece was rather sinewy, which was not pleasant. A ball of steamed rice with crab with broad beans and kozu suace had decent crab and rather glutinous rice.

Harvest fish grilled with white miso resembled in style the black cod served at Hakkasan and Nobu in London, but to be honest it was not a good comparison. The harvest fish was sweetened by the miso but did not have the pleasing texture of a good black cod dish. This was served with a badly overcooked boiled prawn that had the consistency of cotton wool, and taro dressed with sesame miso and pickled melon.

Sea eel was boiled down with mirin and soy suace, served with bamboo shoot and broad beans. The beans themselves were nowhere near as tender as at a sushi bar a couple of days earlier, while eel, something I love, was also disappointing in taste. A piece of aubergine tempura was edible but compared poorly with specialist tempura we have tried, including a piece at lunch that very day. Finally rice was served with a few green soy beans and sweet corn, along with a dark brown miso soup and some pickles. I did not enjoy the miso, which again is something I am usually very fond of.

To finish there was a red bean soup, a piece of water melon and a few slices of Japanese peach. The peach was lovely, very sweet and delirious. It was easily the most enjoyable thing in the meal, and it is perhaps no coincidence that it is the thing the kitchen had least to do with. I found this meal a great disappointment. I am sure that there are subtleties I do not understand, but I know when a prawn has been overcooked or a vegetable is not very fresh. In the aspects of the food where I had direct comparison with other meals in Tokyo e.g. the sushi, the tempura, the dishes tonight were far inferior. 

I really wanted to like this place, as it was very pretty, and the service wonderful. Yet the food was, not to put too fine a point on it, bad. I have no idea whether Michelin was scoring based on the service, but in the basis of the food I ate this should not be close to getting one star, let alone three (editor's note - it was demoted in 2010). The bill was JPY 73,337 for two people, and this included as drinks just three small bottles of beer. 

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User comments

  • Lukas

    I am not a big fan of Hamadaya, but I have to say that reading all of your reviews of restaurants here in Tokyo, it seems clear that there are some elements of Japanese food that you either don't understand very well, or which simply do not appeal to you (and you can't appreciate the quality in light of your personal tastes). I completely take your point about overcooked seafood or vegetables that are below par, but clearly there is also an issue with the subtlety of a lot of Japanese food, which may appear bland to you. Try Aronia de Takazawa next time you visit here. It is tiny with two tables and was (luckily) overlooked by the Michelin people (which I am sure is something that will change next time). Its style is hard to describe. Think Japanese basis and El Bulli / Ryugin modern tchniques with elements from European cuisine. BTW, Ryugin is my favourite Japanese restaurant, absolutely stunning and I don't see how they didn't get three stars.

  • Bu Pun Su

    Sorry that you don't have good meal here - it's my favorite place in Tokyo ( I've been following your great reviews of world's top restaurants ... one thing I realized, almost all of the Japan's reviews are "bad" grading-wise. Am I correct to say that the light taste of Japanese cooking does not fit your palate as compared to French cooking with "heavy" sauce and stronger taste? Thanks

  • Richard

    I am sorry that you didn't have a good experience. My experience at the Midtown location for lunch was really awesome. Here is my take and photos of the experience.