Category Archives: Naka-Meguro

Posts about izakaya, restaurants and bars in Naka-Meguro, written by Rebekah Wilson-Lye for Ichi for the Michi.

Tokyo Food: Higashiyama, Nakameguro

January 29th, 2011
This birthday I was given a clear directive from friends: no Japanese food, and I can’t make the reservation. Harsh! Well, I suppose they did have just cause given that last year I had taken them to an izakaya that, despite having high ranking on tabelog (I was yet to discover the disparity between rankings and reality), was abysmal and resulted in the entire party coming down with food poisoning.
However, after employing a little diplomacy, I was able to wrestle back control with the compromise of a Japanese restaurant in the painfully hip environs of Nakameguro.

Named after the chi-chi neighbourhood it is located in, Higashiyama is patronised by local tarento, the design/fashion clique and a small coterie of foreigners who have no doubt stumbled across praising reviews – that damn ‘the New York Times effect’. From the street, there is little in the way of signage to indicate Higashiyama’s existence, but once you make your way along the path to the rear of the building, an open courtyard is revealed with a striking water feature bathed in subtle lighting.
Higashiyama is the flagship restaurant of the Simplicity, a design company which promotes its vision of bringing Japanese lifestyle and culture to the global stage through the fields of architecture, interior design, food and food related design products. 
Before being seated, guests are lead to a dimly lit alcove, which is in effect a showcase for the wabi-sabi designs produced by the Simplicity workshops. 

On display are ceramics, tableware, woodwork, metalware, along with a selection elegantly presented Japanese sweets from their wagashi shop, Higashiya… all conveniently available for purchase, of course.

Counter seats overlooking the immaculate kitchen would be my preference, but given the number in our group it was impractical. We were more than happy, however, with seats at the large communal table in the central dining room. There are also smaller tables set along the atrium windows with views over the courtyard for more intimate dining. 

The attention to detail is impressive. The place settings, with thick cotton napkins, metal chopstick holders and hand-crafted ohashi, beautifully complement the food. 

The menu could be best described as contemporary Japanese washoku utilizing the best of seasonal and locally sourced produce. The menu is available a la carte or there is a choice of prix fixe courses which range from ¥3,500, for a 2 course option, to a more elaborate ¥8,000 wagyu course. We stumped for the ¥3,500 course with two of us supplementing our course with sashimi moriawase (for me), and a gobo & nanohana (burdock root and rapeseed greens) salad in a goma & kurumi (sesame and walnut) dressing (for the Greek).
A simple appetiser of homemade tofu and lightly pickled Kyoto vegetables started the meal. The silken tofu was accompanied with Iburi Jio sea salt, from Akita, which is smoked with cherry wood. The wonderful smoky flavour and aroma that this artisanal salt imparted to the dish was a revelation. So good, in fact, that I kept nibbling at it long after the tofu was gone. 
All this talk of food, and I have failed to mention the drinks menu, which is comprised of a good selection of sake, shouchu, as well as French & New World wines from some fairly reputable vineyards. I was tempted by rieslings from Serensin Estate (New Zealand) and Hugel (Alsace), but bubbles were the order of the day, so we selected a pleasant semi-seco Cava instead.

Confusion reigned, however, when two large platters of sashimi arrived along with a large ceramic bowl of the gobo and nanohana salad. Impressed with the generous portions, we greedily dived into the food before the realisation slowly dawned on us that our waiter had ordered each dish for the whole table. An expensive mistake which took our economical course option to well over ¥6,500 per person. 

An entree of Hokkaido snow crab, kazunoko (dried herring roe), micro greens and yuzu salad arrived in an impressive urushi (lacquerware) bowl. The contrasting flavours and textures of the soft, sweet crab meat, the spongy, crunchy kazunoko, and the crisp zesty vegetables made for a bit of a party in my mouth, and brought smiles to the all the faces at the table.

The main course of Iwate roast pork with quince sauce and wilted greens was deemed moist and delicious by all assembled.

All except me, of course. Due to my non-meat eating ways, the kitchen kindly allowed me to order a main from the a la carte list. My teriyaki glazed buri (yellowtail) steak was served with its traditional accompaniment of grated daikon, and some grilled sweet potato – yum! The glaze was sweet and smoky, and the fish was grilled to what seems to be the standard Japanese level of ‘done': cooked all the way through, though I personally prefer my fish cooked a little under. I also thought the dish lacked some acidity, and was screaming out for a big wedge of lemon; a small quibble easily remedied once the required citrus was procured from the kitchen. Again, the presentation was spot on, and I seriously contemplated smuggling the gold leaf urushi plate home in my bag.

A covertly orchestrated platter of matcha and vanilla panacotta was the surprise finale to the meal. Decadently rich, without being cloying and mellowed out with a warm bowl of houjicha, it was the perfect note to finish on. Note the candle holder is a big chunk of mizujokan… God is in the details.

Overall, a pleasant meal was had by all, though our experience was slightly soured when then bill arrived; with drinks, the total came to around ¥9,000 per person. Therefore the waiter’s ordering snafu had added an extra ¥3,000 to each person’s meal. As it was a special day my companions, bless them, preferred to pay up rather than make a fuss, which was incredibly generous and gracious of them. Definitely a lesson learned.

No good night out is complete without a 二次会 (after party), so the more robust drinkers in our group (the Greek and I), carried on the festivities in the lower level Higashiyama Lounge. Accessed by diners from the restaurant or via a discrete street entrance, the lounge bar is a destination in itself. The interior is a continuation of the industrial minimalist design of the main building, with the noir-ish lighting, luxe seating and jazz/soul BGM creating a sense greater intimacy. Supping Ron Zacapa 20 year Guatemalan rum in this environment one could easily forget the passage of time. And indeed we did. So if points were based on the hour one stumbles out the door, Higashiyama would be awarded an impressive 5 and a half stars (hick!)… minus 2 for the dent to the wallet.

Tokyo Izakaya: Nakamenoteppen, Naka-Meguro – なかめのてっぺん、中目黒

Monday, August 30th

My quest for food and nihon-shu in the Tokyo metropolis means that I have clocked up many hours, if not days and weeks, scouring the pages of for inspiration. Love it or hate it, it is a useful search tool, and while I have become wary of the arbitrary nature of the ranking system, I’ve had plenty of successful dining experiences through it, too.
So, with my list of ‘go to izakayas’ spawning lists of their own, I (foolishly) decided to devote the 10 days of my summer holiday to knocking some of the buggers off.
The first day of my holidays coincided with The Surfer’s birthday, so a booking was made at Nakamenoteppen; an izakaya which had piqued my interest after being named one of tabelog’s top restaurants for 2009 – what the criteria was is anyone’s guess.
Nakamenoteppan is conveniently housed on the first floor of an apartment building on a street parallel to the station. Gaining entrance, however, proved to be something of a skill test – of which we failed miserably. The liliputian door, barely one metre in height, had no handle or ‘bing-bong’ and was resistant to force. “How the hell do we get in?” – well, those seemed to be the magic words, as suddenly the door slid open and we were warmly greeted by a spritely waitress.

Entering the shop, there was no reprieve from the sweltering summer conditions outside; we were hit with a wall of heat, which was emanating, along with uncious smells, from the large robata grill that dominated the room.

Seated at the low wooden counter that surrounded the grill, we were afforded a pleasing view of the day’s organic vegetable fare and in-house cured himono, which were assembled on the counter top. Each offering had a hand written plague giving its name and provenance.

Although it was still early, the shop was humming and, by the look of the group of salarymen that occupied the large communal table at the far end of the room, festivities were already well underway. The source of their levity was obviously from the bar, which was stocked with an impressive array of shochu in all of its glorious forms – the house speciality. A quick look at the drinks list reveled, however, they that also had 8 sake of ginjou (or higher) grand on offer – phew!

Given the heat, lemon sours and nama beer kicked us off, along with an otooshi of Kyo-yasai tsukemono; all of which were disappeared fairly quickly.
The menu focuses on robata grilled food – natch; lots of veges, dried fish, along with grilled meat and a few Okinawan dishes for the pork lovers. Once our order was placed, the chef, who was boisterously manning the grill, dispatched it with such lightening speed that within minutes all of our dishes arrived and we were forced to colonise the our neighbours counter space.
First up, the sashimi moriawase, which arrived on a plate so long that it required two photos: tai, kinmedai, chu-toro, nama tako and shime-saba. All of good grade and cut in generous proportions. Note the personalised reservation and welcoming message in the background – I must be easily impressed because it scored points with me.

Next was the saba heshiko, which packed a salty, umami punch – not an unpleasant thing in my books. This was, however, our one mis-step of the evening – definitely a dish that should be enjoyed at the end of the meal, as the residual salt lingered on our palate for the rest of the evening.

The tsubodai himono had to wait in the wings for a while, but once we had made our way through the first few dishes, we discovered that it was the star of the show. It was deliciously caramalised on the outside and moist within; its time on the robata grill imparting a wonderful smokiness to the flesh. Divine.

By the time our grilled asparagus arrived our dishes were starting to pile up in the most cumbersome fashion. Surely the kitchen could pace the service better than this? In hindsight, we had made a rookie’s mistake; order as you go – the grill waits for no man.

Of course plenty of sake was needed to wash down all of this good, and highly seasoned, food. The Surfer choose the Dassai junmai daiginjou (獺祭純米大吟醸– always good, followed by a tokkuri of Soukou jumaishu (蒼空純米酒) from Kyoto, which was a revelation.

As it was the Surfer’s special day, we decided to throw caution to the wind and work our way through the rest of the sake list. I had recently enjoyed the Taka (畳) junmaiginjou at Kudan, so was interested to try it in its ginjou form, however, we deemed it too heavy for our palates and the fish-centric dishes we were eating. The Kudoki Jouzu Bakuren ginjou dry(くどき上手ばくれん吟醸辛口) proved to be a winner: crisp, dry and dangerously drinkable – the ‘pick-up artist’ is a perfect epithet for this charming little tipple.
As the night progressed, more and more punters managed to work out how to get through the door, and before long the shop was filled to capacity. The grill chef was now working like a man possessed and with each successive order the smoke and heat were ratcheted up a notch, which made for thirsty, and consequently, increasingly intoxicated customers – Hic!
One last round: Hayaseura junmaishu (早瀬浦純米酒) from Fukui; Okinawan mamodake and lashings of iced water. The makomodake, a type of young bamboo, was succulent and delicious with a delicate flavour not dissimilar to young corn. It paired nicely with the sake, which according to my notes, was dry and refreshing with a nice level of acidity. I, too, am slightly astounded at my articulateness given the amount of nihonshu that had been put away throughout the evening. Double hic!

 Nakamenoteppan certainly delivers good food and atmosphere, and if shochu is your poison, you will be well catered for here. As we staggered to the station, I couldn’t help thinking that if I was fortunate enough to live in a desirable neighbourhood such as Naka-Meguro, this would definitely be my local. So, when the occasion calls for something cheap and cheerful, I will be making a bee-line to Nakamenoteppan, but – mental note to self – I will dress lightly, order slowly and return in more clement weather.