Pity the person who is foolhardy enough to ask a Tokyo foodie, “Where would you go to eat in Shibuya?, as the retort will undoubtably be, “Get out of there!” While there is no denying that Shibuya is home to ubiquitous chain izakayas and one coin bars, it is possible to find a few diamonds among the rough.
It was Boo-Boo’s first night in Tokyo, so the occasion called for Japanese food with a dining environment that would make a good first impression. ChaCha Konoka fit the bill perfectly.
Housed on the 6th floor of a high-rise building off Centre-gai (above the Franc Franc store), Konoka is one of the newest ventures by the phenomenally successful Jellyfish group. The company philosophy is design-art-food-sound-style, and as we were lead to our seats, a quick appraisal of the striking interior (Kyoto’s uber-hip fashion brand Sou-Sou has designed the upholstery) and the equality aesthetically pleasing clientele, confirmed that they care a lot about appearances. Thankfully, they appear to to know how to cook, too.
The Cha-Cha group of restaurants specialise in Kyoto obanzai ryori: home-style comfort food that your gran would make, if you were Japanese that is. Obanzai dishes are made with seasonal Kyo-yasai (Kyoto vegetables), tofu, nama-fu (wheat-gluten), fish and other staples of local cuisine, and are usually served with rice and miso soup. While obanzai dishes may look plain (they certainly lack the fussy presentation of kaiseki, for example), they are healthy and hearty. With everyone jumping on the “eco” bandwagon, obanzai seems to have become the ‘It’ food of the ‘Me’ generation.
The drinks list is comprehensive and includes a selection of a good half dozen or so well known brands. We opted for the Dassai junmaiginjou – a light and clean style, with plenty of fruits on the palate without coming off too sweet. I am often left perplexed by sake brewers choice of epithets. I mean, if Otter Festival won out in the naming selection, what on earth were the runners-up? Raccoon Jamboree?
The otoshi arrived at this stage, each of us receiving a different offering from the kitchen: nama-fu which had been simmered in a dashi broth and a shijiki salad. We followed this up with a trio of obanzai starters – which I subsequently forgot to document , thought I am sure they were good.
As it was late and Boo-boo was drooping after a long flight from Yosemite, we passed on the course menus (¥3,675-6,300) in favour of ordering lighter fare a la carte.
The sashimi moriawase, served on elegant wabi-sabi yakimono, included chu-toro, buri, toro-salmon, madai (red snapper) and, as it is spring, hotaru-ika (firefly squid). While it was all of high quality, they got points off for their stingy portions. For a sashimi glutton like me, one piece per person is downright cruel.
Sadly, the kinki nitsuke and shimesaba konbu maki had already sold out, so we made do with the miso cured saba (mackerel) saikyo yaki – which delivered on taste and texture. Thankfully, it was not the dry and overly salty version that one so often encounters.
If you print out the coupon on gurumenabi it entitles you to a complementary bowl of matcha and an okashi (on this occasion, sakura-mochi wrapped in a pickled sakura leaf), and if you are really organised you will remember to bring it. Thankfully, our lovely waitress took pity on me and served it to us anyway. Now that’s how to make a good impression.