Tokyo Food and Drink
Tokyo has more restaurants than any other city in the world, as well as the most Michelin-star rated. There’s plenty of places with great tempura or sushi, or to slurp a quick bowl of noodles, but make sure to treat yourself with a degustation at one of the world’s best.
On the bar front, Tokyo boasts around 16,000 bars - most of them tiny and often tucked away down side streets and alleys. You’ll also find plenty of rowdy ‘izakaya’, the Japanese version of a pub. The cocktail craze has also hit Tokyo, but here bartenders approach their subject with the artistry of Michelin-starred chefs.
Tsukiji Fish Market
At the top of the dining hierarchy is sushi – best eaten fresh from the Tsukiji Fish Market, where top restaurants shop for their ingredients. Customers queue up in the morning for hours at Sushi Dai, regarded by many as the best sushi restaurant in Japan.
Tokyo Ramen Street
With some people slurping it daily, ramen (a type of noodle soup made with pork or chicken) is one of Japan’s national foods. There are eight famous and different ramen shops on Tokyo Ramen Street in the basement of Tokyo Station. Rokurinsha is a favourite.
Though sushi is usually made with seafood, some restaurants also serve it made with Wagyu beef. Dishes featuring the melt-in-your-mouth meat are a must-try when in Tokyo. Ginza Yoshizawa has been serving sukiyaki and shabu-shabu dishes using the highest quality Wagyu for over 50 years.
Consistently appearing on the list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, Chef Narisawa flawlessly creates each dish with imagination – and a little drama, with creations such as ‘Life and Death’, and ‘Gifts from Nature’. While it may not be cheap, the experience is priceless.
Also on the list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, Nihonryori RyuGin in Roppongi has graced the prestigious roll of honour for many years. Scouring the markets each morning, Chef Yamamoto and his team prepare a daily-changing kaiseki (haute cuisine) of elegantly simple Japanese dishes.
Another Japanese fast food favourite is okonomiyaki (savory pancake), made with an assortment of ingredients. Tokyo's oldest okonomiyaki restaurant, operating since 1937, is located inside a traditional wooden house in Asakusa. It’s great fun to sit on the floor and cook your own tasty creation.
Fans of the TV show Iron Chef can experience the delightful "delacroix of French cuisine" Hiroyuki Sakai at his restaurant La Rochelle in Aoyama. Book well in advance. Or try the dishes of Chen Kenichi “The Szechwan Sage,” at Chen at the Cerulean Tower Hotel.
If you’re tempted to try puffer fish, or fugu, known as the-fish-that will-kill-you-within-two-hours-if-not-properly-prepared, this restaurant in the Minato precinct, awarded three stars in the 2015 Michelin guide, is a good (and safe) place to start. Their licensed chef is among the best in the world.
In the heart of Roppongi, Gonpachi is known as the 'Kill Bill Restaurant' as it was the inspiration for the fight scene in Quentin Tarantino’s famous movie and one of the great movie destinations of Tokyo. It serves tasty pub-style Japanese food with a twist.
Labyrinth of Alice
Quirky-themed restaurants are also a must-do in Tokyo for an insight into the peculiar Japanese psyche. This Alice in Wonderland-themed restaurant in up-market Ginza is sure to have you grinning like the Cheshire Cat. Very popular with Japanese women, with meals fit for a queen.
The mixologists at this swanky bar hunt down top-quality, fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs from around Japan to create classic cocktails a Japanese twist, such as the tastiest passion fruits from Okinawa, or the sweetest kumquats from Miyazaki. The concoctions here are an art form.
Long regarded as the essential destination for beer enthusiasts in Tokyo, Popeye boasts an unrivalled 70 beers on tap, the largest selection in Japan. Most are brewed by tiny producers around Japan, although there’s an international selection as well. This is gourmet beer drinker heaven.
Japanese whisky has taken the world by storm, even beating Scotland in the world’s best whisky stakes. Zoetrope has around 300 different varieties on offer, including rare single-cask offerings that are almost impossible to find anywhere else. It’s open until 4 am for a nightcap.
It would be remiss to visit Japan and not gain an appreciation of sake, the country’s national drink. Kuri stocks more than 100 varieties, ranging from newly-brewed to finely-aged, along with a weekly changing seasonal selection. A sake sommelier will guide you through the range.
Kamiya is a Tokyo institution, being the oldest western-style bar in Tokyo, from the late 1800s. It’s often crowded, but worth it for a taste of its signature cocktail called Denki Bran, or “electric brandy” a secret recipe created in 1882 by the bar’s founder.
The Rooftop Bar on the 52nd floor of Andaz Tokyo is one of the highest rooftop bars in Tokyo, with spectacular views of the city skyline from the terrace. The signature drinks menu features cocktails based on Japanese teas, seasonal fruits, sake, and premium champagnes.
Tucked away in a corner of Shinjuku, Golden Gai consists of dimly lit narrow alleys lined by hundreds of tiny bars, some so small that only five or six customers can squeeze in at once. Some only serve regulars, but many will welcome you in.
Streamer Coffee Company
Traditionally a tea drinking nation, good coffee has emerged everywhere in Tokyo. One such chain is the Streamer Coffee Company, owned by the latte art champion Hiroshi Sawada. Every cup comes with beautiful latte art. There are four stores in Tokyo including Shibuya and Harajuku.
Aoyama Flower Market Tea House
Set inside a flower shop, with colorful fragrant blooms filling the entire space, this teahouse serves up an array of delicious herbal and fruity teas (no coffee), beer, wine and hot and cold mojitos. It’s a delightful relaxing respite from the bustle of the city.
Although it takes a bit of searching to find, this inconspicuous ‘secret’ bar, perched on a tiny wedge of rooftop atop a three-story building in Roppongi has incredible views of the Tokyo skyline. Sipping drinks on glass tables with chandeliers inside them is divine.