Feb 28, 2019
It takes an expert to find some of Tokyo’s finest restaurants, which is why we asked photographer Shinsuke Matsukawa to take us on a visual tour of covert izakayas and tempura speakeasies.
It’s an understatement to say that some of Tokyo’s most distinguished dining and drinking dens are not so easy to find. In a city where local intel trumps all, photographer Shinsuke Matsukawa peeks into the unmarked doorways of a few hidden eateries worth seeking out.
Inspired by the transient Edo-era yatai food carts, this refined sushi bar changes its address once a year; it is now in an unmarked space in Aoyama. The haunting entrance is recognizable only by a dark, black-walled corridor punctuated by a small water fountain similar to those found at Japanese shrines. The six-seater bar also feels like a private art gallery, currently featuring artworks by Tokyo photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto. sushiyoshii.com; +81 3 6459 1343; 3-2-8 Kita-Aoyama, Minato; tasting menu from ¥16,000.
This tempura “speakeasy” hides within a 100-year-old building in the hip district of Nakameguro, with just a red postbox hailing the entrance. Making use of traditional Japanese woods, the small space fits just eight perches around the grill and fryer. It’s here that chef Naoaki Miyashiro takes center stage, deftly frying a 19-course omakase tempura menu before guests’ eyes. Dishes change with the season, but can include crispy conger eel, Wagyu fillet and a tempura snapper hot pot, and each dish can be matched with complementary sake or shochu. At lunch, a tiger prawn kakiage-don rice bowl is served. miyashiro.tokyo; GF, 2-18-11 Kami-Meguro; omakase dinner menu ¥18,000.
Literally meaning “second floor,” Onikai is located just above Tempura Miyashiro, in the same building. Opened in August of last year, this cozy 15-seat restaurant serves oden, a traditional seafood hot pot, plus seasonal seafood like abalone sashimi and a kawaii fish-shaped prawn tempura sandwich. Book ahead to reserve the intimate two-person table on the terrace. +81 3 3714 9888; 2F, 2-18-11 Kami-Meguro; dishes from ¥680.
Just a short stumble from Shibuya station, this riverside izakaya has more than 50 kinds of sake on offer. Drinking snacks include karaage (fried chicken), hot pot and a lauded kelp-marinated chicken sashimi. Plates and drinking vessels are served in traditional Japanese pottery, including the earthy Karatsu ceramics from Saga prefecture. With no phone (the owner is averse to the sound of the ringtone, apparently), reservations are by e-mail only. 3-22-11 Shibuya; dishes from ¥600; drinks from ¥600; for reservations, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
A small square light signals the door to a steep staircase, which leads to this subterranean drinking hole: a candlelit, eight-seat bar designed to reflect a traditional Japanese teahouse. This inspiration is also infused in the hand-crafted drinks: Kyoto matcha adds delicate flavor and bright color to a G&T. During winter, the smoking irori (sunken stove) on the bar warms a traditional Nanbu Tekki ironware teapot for hot cocktails like the Dashi Martini. ig.com/barcacoi; Ginza NK Bldg. B1F, 3-14-8 Ginza; cocktails from ¥1,200; cover charge ¥1,000; individual parties limited to a maximum of three people; no reservations. — Eloise Basuki