It takes a fairly major announcement to make a ripple in the vast, deep and complex world that is the Tokyo food scene, but news that Noma, the world's most famous restaurant, is opening its first permanent site outside Copenhagen in Japan might just do the trick.
Inua, which opens on 29 June, will be a showcase for the talents of Thomas Frebel, head of Noma's research and development team. The 34-year-old German-born chef, who has been with Noma for a decade, is opening the restaurant in partnership with Noma chef René Redzepi.
Over the past several years Redzepi has taken Noma overseas for pop-ups in Britain, Japan, Australia and Mexico, and he and his partners back other former Noma talents in other venues in Copenhagen (Rosio Sanchez at Sanchez and Hija de Sanchez; Thorsten Schmidt at Barr; Kristian Baumann at 108). But this is the first time they've opened something outside Denmark that doesn't have an end-date attached.
Frebel says the time he spent in Tokyo for Noma's residency at the Mandarin Oriental in 2015 left him with a deep sense of connection to Japan and its food culture. "When we left, I felt a sense of not being finished with my time in Japan. Fulfilling my dream, I'm excited to be back in Tokyo, one of the world's greatest food cities, to open and share Inua."
Speaking to Gourmet Traveller from Tokyo, he said that he was looking to celebrate ingredients from the length and breadth of the country: tropical fruit from Okinawa, right up to sea urchin, skate and octopus from Hokkaido. "We'll also be working with mountain vegetables, which are incredible – flavours I've never seen anywhere else," he says. "And then there are the surprises. I just had the best tomatoes I've ever tasted, for instance, and they were grown here in Japan – juicy and sweet with almost no seeds at all."
Diners can expect a focus on Japanese food but refracted through the Noma approach; food that is of Japan but perhaps not what is expected of Japanese cuisine. Frebel says some of his most promising experiments include maitake mushrooms which he smokes over a barbecue until they're all but dried, then braises in a miso broth ("unlike anything I've tasted before"), and a kombu preparation that involves a double infusion of roasted and fresh kombu to produce a stock which is then dehydrated over several days. "It becomes the most incredible candy you've ever tasted," Frebel says. "It works very well with bananas from Okinawa."
The 60-seat restaurant, which is being built on the 9th floor of the Fujimi building in Chiyoda, near the Imperial Palace in central Tokyo, has been designed by Danish firm OEO Studio with a view to exploring the shared sympathies of Nordic and Japanese aesthetics. The word inua, says team Noma, is taken from Inuit mythology, and means "the spirit that exists in all living things".
Frebel says that the food won't look anything like what diners saw at the Tokyo pop-up. "We've moved on – that was three years ago. If anything it'll look more like Noma today. I've been with Noma 10 years, and for five of those 10, I've worked extremely closely with René on developing dishes. There's a little of me in Noma, you might say, and a lot of Noma in me."
That should put paid, then, to the question of the dish that was so widely talked about at Noma Japan that it gave its name to a documentary about the pop-up, Ants on a Shrimp. "There won't be any ants on a shrimp at Inua," Frebel says. But what about shrimps on an ant? "Maybe if we can get hold of some of those really big ants we had in Australia."
Reservations are open now; get those clicking-fingers clicking, food fans.
Inua, 9F Fujimi Bldg. 2-13-12 Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, inua.jp