When it comes to dining, there is no dispute that Tokyo is one of the greatest: the Japanese capital has more Michelin stars than any other city in the world, including Paris. But you don't have to go to Gagnaire's to shell out the price of an air ticket for a good meal. The Japanese are famous for their perfectionism and attention to details so even little eateries in Tokyo offer great experiences. Here are four that we have tried and tested:
Soup Stock Tokyo
Cuisine Soup recipes, mostly Western-style but with a Japanese touch.
Neighbourhood There are many branches around town - the one that I went to is in Chiyoda, near The Peninsula hotel. I came here right after shopping at the newly opened Hankyu men's department store (see story here) across the street. The restaurant is right in front of an exit of the Ginza metro station.
Environment Every branch varies slightly in decor. The Chiyoda one is tiny and it feels like a deli. There are only counter seats facing the full-length windows and looking out to the street.
Food The food here is for the dieter, with each soup recipe listed on the menu with the calorie count. But the low calories haven't resulted in blandness - my shirmp bisque is to die for, and paired with a bowl of sesame rice, I had a very nourishing meal.
Service The isn't much need to interact with the staff here - you order and pay at the cashier, and then they bring you the food on a tray. But typical of the Japanese, everyone here was courteous.
Price A simple set with a cup of soup and a bowl of sesame rice starts from JPY500 (US$6)
Neighbourhood This is a chain restaurant, and the branch I visited is in Shinjuku, near the red-light district of Kabukicho.
Environment It's a typical sushi-restaurant setting, with people sitting around the counter watching the chefs in action. The place had a very nice buzz when I was there.
Food This is one of those places where because the turnover is quick, the ingredients are always fresh. I had the Tokusen chirashi sushi - vinegared rice topped with "carefully selected" seasonal ingredients. I was presented with a beautiful bowl of seafood that included some very healthy-looking maguro (lean tuna), hamachi (snapper), sea urchin, fish roe and shrimp. With a bottle of chilled sake, it was very enjoyable.
Service The food is served over the counter by the chefs, and they seemed to be having a good time doing what they did.
Price My chirashi was priced at JPY2,100 (US$26). It's worth every dollar.
Cuisine Japanese grill
Neighbourhood The restaurant is located in the Roppongi district, known for its rowdy nightlife, and sits in a little sidestreet near the Midtown complex off commercial towers and residences. Get off at Roppongi station on the Toei-Oedo line and head for exit 7.
Environment The restaurant replicates a large market stall, with fresh produce – fish, meat and vegetables – laid out before the diners sitting around a u-shaped counter. This type of arrangement helps create a chummy fellowship that strangers quickly becomes friends.
Food The items chosen from the spread are then grilled by the flamboyant chefs perched on a dais before an open hearth, who hand the cooked food to the eager guests on a wooden paddle.
Service The waitstaff are a garrulous bunch, who go out of their way to make customers feel at home with their cheeky but helpful attitude. The bantering between the chef-waiters and customers ensures a fun night for all.
Price JPY15,000 (US$187) for a five-course meal of seasonal sashimi, vegetables, seafood, beef and traditional rice balls.
Margie T Logarta
Cuisine Japanese kaiseki
Neighbourhood In the chic fashion precinct of Omotesando (B2) – where Prada’s distinctive cube-like flagship store and four of Issey Miyake boutiques are located. A short walk from Omotesando Station’s B2 exit.
Environment Descend a flight of stairs and turn right on the first landing (the basement is a bar) to enter into a cosy space made warm by caramel-hued wood paneling and a whimsical wall mural. The long counter cleverly helps to accommodates more diners in what is really a tight floor area.
Food Seasonal ingredients are grilled or artfully prepared before diners and arranged as only the Japanese can in bite-size portions on a variety of exquisitely designed bowls and dishes. The kujudori sumiaburi (special free-range chicken with salt and yuzu pepper) and tai no iimushi sakuraba maki (steamed rice with sea bream wrapped in cherry leaf) were memorable.
Service Most of the waiters have some knowledge of English, especially the bartender, who guided us through the specialties of the house.
Price JPY5,000 (US$62) for a set meal of eight dishes. Add JPY1,000 (US$12.50) for the sake.
Margie T Logarta