The Hottest Restaurants in Tokyo Right Now, December 2015

The Hottest Restaurants in Tokyo Right Now, December 2015

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Japan Times restaurant reviewer and Tokyo Food File blogger Robbie Swinnerton shares his picks for the 12 most exciting restaurant and cafe openings of the past year.

13 Places
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    We already knew Yujiro Takahashi is a major talent, thanks to his five years at the helm of the Michelin one-star Le Jeu de l’Assiette. But he has confirmed it with the launch of his own restaurant, Le Sputnik — and by gaining a star of his own within months of opening. From Takahashi’s quirky trademark amuse bouches to superb mains of fowl or game and delectable desserts, flavor and presentation are flawless. His lunch menu is one of the best deals in town. Better yet, the quiet location is just minutes away from Roppongi’s hectic crossing.
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    Prime wagyu beef, the best bincho charcoal, and a chic dining room done out in silver, red, and black: Chef Kentaro Nakahara proves that premium yakiniku is not a contradiction in terms. His seven-item tasting menu, each slice just lightly seared over the coals, is a revelation. So too is his “legendary” beef tongue (so rare it has to be booked ahead of time). One word of advice: if you like tartare, don’t miss the wagyu sushi.
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    It’s a bold name but well justified — at least for the excellent modern French cuisine, if not the minimalist basement location. Owner-sommelier Eiichi Yamada (ex- Edition Koji Shimomura) has teamed up with chef Junichi Kato, who is fresh back in town from a five-year stint in Paris (Astrance) and Copenhagen (AOC and Hotel d’Angleterre Marchal). His tasting menus (both lunch and dinner) are beautiful, creative, and executed with unfailing precision. Well worth the hike from the nearest subway.
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    The most exciting arrival of 2015 was actually a reopening. When Hiroyasu Kawate moved Florilège into new digs in March, it was more than just a change of address: It was a major evolution. He now has a dramatic open kitchen space to match the bold creativity of his new, new, 11-course (six at lunch) tasting menus, in which he incorporates premium Japanese produce into his inventive French cuisine. No surprise that Florilège earned a Michelin star this autumn.
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    Shinya Sakurai’s elegant tea boutique is an oasis of tranquility in the backstreets of Nishi-Azabu. Sniff and sample the various styles of ocha. Browse the shelves for tea equipment and accoutrements. And then install yourself at the counter at the back and immerse yourself in Sakurai’s informal tea ceremony, as he whisks up powdered matcha, infuses umami-rich jade-green sencha, or roasts smoky-earthy hojicha. If it’s stronger beverages you’re after, he also offers some powerful tea-based cocktails.
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    It’s a major leap from a hidden, one-counter hideaway in a rundown quarter of Shinjuku to the bright lights of central Ginza. But Hidetoshi Nishioka has made it look easy. Having established his credentials and become an insider’s secret for some of Tokyo’s top chefs — Yoshihiro Narisawa has been an acknowledged fan — Nishioka has taken his light, attractive Japanese-inflected Shanghai cuisine to a whole new level. Seats for his extended omakase dinners are at a premium.
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    France’s celebrity butcher arrives in the land of wagyu — and Tokyo meat-lovers can’t get enough of his pates, steaks, and signature beef tartare (with or without the caviar). Hugo Desnoyer’s first foray outside of Paris touched down in November to huge acclaim and long waiting lists. The upstairs restaurant is booked solid for at least a month ahead, but if you get there early there’s usually space at the sushi-style counter of the ground-floor, first-come-first-served “meat bar.”
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    Chef Jun Kurogi runs one of the finest washoku restaurants in the city, set in a traditional geisha house. Now he has a superb artisan wagashiya (Japanese confectionery shop) to go with it, but the look couldn’t be more different. Designed by architect Kengo Kuma, this striking contemporary cafe sits just inside the tranquil grounds of Tokyo University. Sip on premium green tea or barista coffee (from Sarutahiko in Ebisu) looking out at the verdant campus while you sample the made-to-order warabi-mochi (bracken-starch jelly) or kuzukiri (clear kudzu starch noodles).
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    At last there’s a way to have Ginza’s classiest (and most popular) ramen and/or tsukemen noodles without having to wait in line. Kagari’s first offshoot is only a few minutes walk away from the original, at the entrance to the Marunouchi Line subway station. The menu is almost identical — the same delectable noodles in rich, creamy, chicken-based paitan broth; the same elegant toppings with plenty of vegetables — and the counter is just as cramped. The big difference is that you rarely have to queue.
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    Tokyo’s dining scene abhors a vacuum. As soon as Florilège moved out of its boutique location, Abysse moved in. Just past his 30th birthday, chef Kotaro Meguro worked under Gérald Passédat at Le Petit Nice and Yuzo Kishida at Quintessence, and he channels both through his inventive, precise seafood-centric cuisine. Meguro’s signature soupe de poisson alone is worth the trek into the residential alleys of Aoyama, as is his bisque-style “takoyaki.” But the highlight is his pairing of foie gras and kegani crabmeat, with konatsu citrus. Meguro’s first Michelin star this month came as no surprise.
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    Maverick Danish brewer Mikkel Borg Bjergsø’s laidback Shibuya bar opened to massive lines this summer and has never looked back. Most of the 20 pumps are dispensing Mikkeller’s inimitable lambics, IPAs, and other assorted high-octane brews, but there are usually four guest taps set aside for local breweries. There’s a burgeoning thirst for craft beer in Japan these days, and Mikkeller’s arrival can only help spur the growth. The timing is impeccable.
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