Thursday, May 31, 2012

Best in Tokyo! In my humble opinion.

This is a collection of my choice food picks across a range of categories. It is of course a completely subjective list based purely on my own taste. My concept of ‘best’ here is mainly to do with the integrity of the food rather than the fanciness of the setting or whether or not the venue is currently fashionable. There is no sponsorship or bribery involved, these are all just places I love to visit, and whether or not you agree with me that they are the best in their category, I hope you find something interesting here and end up enjoying a visit or two.

Best pizza in Tokyo - Savoy

I’ve researched selflessly into the wide variety of styles and qualities of pizza available in Tokyo. ;) I personally favour the Napoli style of pizza, with the floppy stone baked crust, over the Rome style pizza with a thinner, crisp crust. For a while the also excellent Napule was my favourite place to get my fix, but now I decisively hand the trophy to Savoy Pizza. I think it’s the salt that gives it the edge. Many pizzeria in Tokyo with wood-fired ovens make fine pizza, such as the newer and flashier Pizza Strada, but they just don’t back the flavour punch of Savoy. Savoy does it very simply, with just 2 basic pizza choices – margherita and marinara, and they are both exquisite.

Don't be sad little guy, you're the best pizza in Tokyo!

There are 3 Savoy shops listed on the shop card, two in Tokyo and one in Saitama, I visit the Azabu Juban one. The pizzas are 1,575 yen each. There is a bit of showmanship in the preparation, the staff stretch out the dough on the marble surface in front of the diners, arrange the topping, give it a good slug of olive oil then slide it onto the peel to shunt it into the oven with a little flourish, and an occasional slap of the thigh. It comes straight from the oven to you, so if you’re not very careful you WILL burn your mouth. Not that you’ll care. The fresh and simple ingredients are dramatically showcased by the salt, it’s quite a ‘wow’. Now I've made myself want to eat Savoy pizza.

The shop does however have one particular problem – it’s too bloody popular! I’m not helping myself here by writing this am I? :) The Azabu Juban space is tiny, with room for perhaps 10 diners all squeezed together, and there are frequently queues outside. To avoid disappointment it’s best to reserve, or maybe try going before the 7pmish after-work rush. Also do be mentally prepared for the possibility of being hurried out of your seat once you’ve finished your food during busy times, even if you still have some wine left in your bottle – it’s one of the foibles of dining out at popular places in Japan, but it can really irk if you’re not expecting it. Ladies and gents, in my opinion the pizza is worth it. As a plan B, I have also seen them do take-away for pick-ups..

Best fish and chips in Tokyo - The Royal Scotsman

When you order fish and chips at certain British pub chains in Japan, at first glance you can’t be terribly sure which of the fried lumps before you are the fish and which are the chips. Breaded fried fish in place of proper battered fish is also a common sighting. The Royal Scotsman in Iidabashi however falls foul of neither of these issues. They do a man-sized portion of fish (though you can also order smaller sizes), which is coated in a light batter that is very reminiscent of what you’d get at a good chippie in the UK. It properly hits the spot. Particularly when you douse the lot in malt vinegar. 1000 yen for the large fish and chips.

Proper battered fish and chips in Tokyo

Wonder if they’ll start doing chip-shop gravy and mushy peas too? The space is cozy, non-smoking, the staff are lovely, and they also hold events like whisky tasting and Irish music sessions.

Best dal in Tokyo - Nataraj

 Another comfort food, this soup-style dish is available at many Indian restaurants across Tokyo. I’ve often had dal that is a bit gritty, putting me in the mind of spices past their use-by date. The most flavourful, fresh tasting and addictive dal I’ve found so far in Tokyo is at the Aoyama branch of the vegetarian Indian restaurant chain Nataraj, near Gaienmae station. A few months ago they started doing a lunchtime buffet, with 4 curries, rice, fresh naan bread and salad for 950 yen. It’s good value, healthy (unless you go mad with your serving sizes at the buffet), and you get to try the changing range of curries. Some of the other curries can be a bit hit and miss, and seem like they have been tailored to Japanese tastes (I’m not a fan of the gluten 'meat' curries for example), but the other curries are good and my absolute favourite is the daal (it's sometimes replaced by a similar and also delicious sambar, which is slightly sourer than the dal).

I need a better photo, but that dal at the front there? That's where it's at!

Nataraj grow a lot of the veggies used in the cooking themselves in Chiba, which is an interesting initiative and might be lending to the flavour through freshness. They also sell a recipe book at the restaurant which includes the dal, so you can reproduce it at home should you be similarly enamoured.

Best tapas in Tokyo - Tio Danjo

Previous to discovering Tio Danjo in Ebisu I'd spent some time looking forward to trying out a famous, posh tapas place in Azabu Juban, only to be thoroughly disappointed when I finally got to try it out. I should have known something was afoot when, in making the reservation I was told that 'they don't allow diners to have light meals, did I understand?' what, was I wearing a burlap sack? The food at that restaurant was nice enough, but the atmosphere of the evening was ruined for us by the staff whose role seemed to be to fret about the amount we were to order and then coldly ignore us once we'd passed some unspoken price threshold.
The posh tapas place, not the best experience..

What a relief it was then to find the more open and easy-going establishment Tio Danjo, with excellent homely food and friendlier staff, run as a standing-bar with customers casually coming and going throughout the evening. Items from the board behind the counter rotate (sautéed cauliflower, asparagus fritters) and there are staple items written on the menus along the top of the back wall (Iberico ham, Manchego cheese, dates wrapped in bacon, marinated anchovies). Our Spanish friend liked the croquetas de jamon so much "they're like my Mum makes!" we ordered them twice.

Honest good food and atmosphere at Tio Danjo in Ebisu

Best izakaya in Tokyo - Andy’s (Shin Hinomoto)

Ok so 'izakaya' isn't a food category as such, but Andy's isn't your average izakaya, and it's definitely in my list of favourite places with special food, so I'm wheedling it in here. Andy's is an institution. It's comprised of a low-ceilinged pair of old fashioned rooms under the JR train tracks in down-town Yurakucho (the upstairs room is a bit more spacious than the basement room, if you're booking ahead). Loud, smoky, and frequently packed full, Andy's is the place to come when you're with a group of friends looking for a lively evening with reasonably priced yet fantastic food. There is usually a good mix of foreigners and Japanese clientele, lots of salarymen, and as the evening wears on the divisions between the separate groups often wear down. Andy's is also good for casual work parties and for giving visitors from abroad a lively Japanese pub-style experience.

Fresh fish and seafood is the house specialty. The eponymous British proprietor goes to Tsukiji fish market every day to choose the produce which includes huge king crabs, swordfish steaks, sea bream, salmon.. well, here's the list. Various kinds of fish are served whole, grilled, fried, or prepared as truly excellent sashimi (many can also be delivered to your home through Andy's fish selection and delivery service). The selection changes depending on what's available, and so it's a good idea to check with Andy what he'd particularly recommend at that time. With non-fish menu options including grilled asparagus, tempura, a succulent tomato salad, chicken wings stuffed with gyoza meat(!), you start to get an idea why this place is head and shoulders above your average chain izakaya with their photo menus and the frozen fried chicken.

With a smile and the mixed accent of a long-time Japan resident foreigner, Andy himself has been on the floor taking orders and greeting customers every time I've visited, it really does appear to be his passion.


  1. Have you tried the Malins Fish and Chips in Roppongi? Opened last month - by far the best fish and chips I have had!

  2. Yeah! Tried them just the other day, they were very good. (And they have beer, which is a plus over chippies in the UK :) )

  3. Why don't people start looking outside of Tokyo instead of pushing Brits @ Lunch or Tokyo Brits endorsed places! Lots of Brit run places that offer great food & drink!

    1. Though I can't speak for other blogs you're referring to, this one is about setting up a business in Tokyo because that's where I live and run my business. All the best.