My “things to eat/drink” list for Tokyo has become very long over the years, and I find when I prepare for an upcoming trip, I add even more to the list. I’m never in Tokyo long enough to make much of a dent in the list but I’m never worried because I know it’s a place I’ll keep returning to.
I decided in advance that this time in Tokyo, except for 1 stop, I was not going to be seeking Michelin stars or other high-end experiences, but rather fill my day and a half with simpler things.
Touching down in Tokyo, I turned on my pocket wifi and the first thing I did was check the weather. While I was prepared for rain, I did not anticipate the bitter cold. Having fought off illness for the past while, I didn’t want to push too hard the first night. With an itinerary of staying in 9 places in 10 nights in Japan, I knew I needed to just ease myself into things. While I had visions in my head of sitting at a smoky bar somewhere eating yakitori, my mind knew that slurping up a quick bowl steaming of ramen would be a better option. But as I braved the bone-chilling rain, I had a hard time finding the ramen joint I was looking for specifically. I was slightly deterred, but not dejected because my map also had another place marked nearby in Shimbashi that I was able to find.
Located in the basement, was Gyukatsu Motomura, a restaurant specializing in a beef katsu, rather than the more traditional pork. I am a sucker for Japanese beef, so I was not disappointed in my 2nd choice at all.
As I reached the door of the restaurant, I was asked to order before being shown to my seat. There are only a few options, so decisions are easy to make. There’s a choice of 130 or 260 grams of meat and whether or not you wanted tororo (sticky mountain yam) to be served on the side as a topping for rice. I ordered 130grams of beef with tororo and a large beer and the total for my dinner was $22CDN. Eating deliciously in Japan does not need to be expensive.
Fighting jet lag, I was up and hungry the next morning at 6:00am. Early, but perfect timing for a walk to the Tsukiji market for breakfast. I have been put off by Tsukiji in recent visits due to the masses of tourists, but at 7:00am the outer market area still was bearable.
As I walked out of the restaurant a bit after 8:00am, the market was already teeming with pointers and gawkers and I was happy to get out of there and on to other things.
I went back to the hotel to warm up and get a bit more sleep before my long day ahead. A few hours later, it was still grey and I was still full from breakfast, but it was time to explore a bit of the city.
On my last trip to Tokyo I enjoyed letting the time pass by on a grey rainy afternoon by having a few cups of coffee at Cafe de L’ambre. My thought was to repeat that experience, but for some reason, the cafe was closed. Again, this wasn’t a big deal because I had a plan B for this occasion as well.
While difficult to find as Google map led me to the wrong street, I eventually found the beautiful Higashiya on the 2nd floor the Pola building.
Higashiya was a “Chef Approved Restaurants in Tokyo” from Eater by Chef Kyle Connaughton of Single Thread Farms in Healdsburg, Sonoma. I learned to appreciate his passion for Japan while I was dining at his restaurant so I trusted Higashiya would be a wonderful experience. I am not an expert in tea or wagashi (Japanese sweets) but I understand the difference between good and great for both, and am happy to say that Higashiya was truly great.
My one prime choice for Tokyo on this trip was for cocktails at Gen Yamamoto. It seems like everything I’ve read recently on Tokyo has hyped this place, so I was excited when I was able to get a reservation. 3:00pm isn’t a prime cocktailing hour, but when time is limited, you do what you have to do.
Going to Gen Yamamoto was also a great excuse to go for a walk in the neighbouring Roppongi Hills area before my reservation.
Knowing that getting lost is a probability rather than a possibility, I arrived in the neighbourbood of Azabu Juban early and I found a place outside of the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. Gen Yamamoto was easy enough to find on Google maps, so I had enough time to walk around and grab an onigiri to fill my stomach before cocktails.
Walking into Gen Yamamoto, I was struck by the beautiful bar as I sat down. Originally I was placed at the far end, but seeing as there were only 3 guests for the first hour, I was allowed to sit closer to the center to have a better view of the action.
Gen Yamamoto isn’t about flash, nor the debate on hard shaking methods. Instead, fresh ingredients were muddled and then a Japanese spirit added and carefully mixed.
While Gen Yamamoto may not be the best series of cocktails I’ve ever tasted, it was one of the most interesting. But I’d say this wouldn’t be for everyone. If you’re looking to drink perfect cocktails to suit your palate, then I’d go somewhere else. But in this tasting, you’re presented with the opportunity to taste ingredients at their peak freshness and taste and then matched with unique Japanese spirits. This is Japanese simplicity at its finest, and for that, I appreciated the experience.
After the medley of cocktails, I was happy to find an Afuri ramen a block away from Gen Yamamoto where I enjoyed the clean citrusy bowl of noodles.
My parents and brother arrived in Tokyo late, but my dad was determined to have sushi at Tsukiji. Luckily, Sushi Zanmai is open 24 hours so showing up after 10pm was no problem.
With my parents & brother’s arrival in Japan, it meant my whirlwind was about to begin. I was happy to have a day to myself to acclimatize, explore a new area of Tokyo and cross some new things off my Tokyo list.