Travel News

Where to eat and drink in Tokyo, Japan

Chef Hideki Ii guides you through the seemingly impenetrable array of restaurants and bars in the Japanese capital, serving up his culinary highlights.
Tokyo JapanTom Bonaventure

Raised in his family’s Chinese restaurant, Hideki Ii was exposed to cooking from an early age, but it wasn’t until he met legendary Australian chef Tetsuya Wakuda that his career took off. After relocating to Sydney to become senior sous chef at Tetsuya’s, Ii went to New York to work for the UN before returning home to [Tokyo, Japan]((https://www.gourmettraveller.com.au/travel/destinations/gourmet-travellers-travel-guide-to-tokyo-japan-20355|target=”_blank”) and opening Shirosaka, a Michelin-starred modern kaiseki in city’s Akasaka neighbourhood. This is where you’ll find the chef – and certified sommelier – eating and drinking when he’s off the clock.

Chef Hideki Ii of Michelin-starred Shirosaka.

In the mood for pasta

Before opening Shirosaka, I worked at Union Square Tokyo for six months with Michael Romano who was the chef at the original Union Square Cafe in New York. The restaurant does burgers, pasta and steaks. Over the past 20 years, there’s been an explosion of American cuisine in Tokyo, especially craft burgers, which Japanese people are crazy for. I like the burger at Union Square. Yoshichika Matsuda, the head chef there, is very talented. I also like sitting at the counter at Melograno. Chef Yuji Goto gives everyone a warm welcome and I always tell him to cook me whatever he wants. I love his pasta, such as a black-truffle pasta that’s really, really good. It’s not a big restaurant, but it’s casual and very friendly.

Welcome to Akasaka

Akasaka is next to Roppongi and used to have to a lot of kaiseki restaurants but most of them have closed. In the last five years, however, lots of good new restaurants have opened here. Shirosaka is the kind of Japanese restaurant I want to eat at. I always go to casual places where people are friendly and there’s a warm welcome. My restaurant is small so I can talk to all of my customers about what they want to eat and create an omakase menu especially for them. We specialise in charcoal-grilled dishes and also offer wine and sake pairings.

Late-night French comfort food

Bistro Ma Cuisine is a casual French bistro that’s open until 3am so we go there a lot after service. The chef Ryosuke Ikejiri cooks classic French food like potato potage and also makes his own sausage. I really like his pâté de campagne (country pâté) and the restaurant serves sake and mostly French wine.

Oysters and wine

Vinoble is another place I like to go after service. It’s a late-night wine bar that serves really good oysters from Hiroshima Prefecture. The kitchen also smokes its own oysters and serves other dishes like oyster omelette and charcuterie. The wine selection is really good, and the cellar features French and new-world wines. They also pour natural wines, too.

Oyster bar Vinoble. Photography: Courtesy of Vinoble.

Japanese-style barbecue

If friends are visiting, I take them to Kabun-Chika for yakiniku (grilled meat). There’s no seasoning on the meat, just salt, so you can really taste the quality of the wagyu. The kitchen uses every part of the cow, including lots of offal. They also serve some creative, tasty side dishes. I love the white oxtail soup.

Inspirational cocktails

Watershed is a new cocktail bar that’s two minutes from Shirosaka and hidden on the second floor of a building. The owner Gohei Tsunoda trained under mixologist Tomoyuki Kitazoe at Bar Rage and is also a qualified sommelier. I often get inspiration for my desserts from his seasonal fruit cocktails.

My favourite sushi

Sushi Mizukami is a sushi restaurant that has been open for a couple of years. Michinobu Mizukami, the chef, used to work at Jiro. He also does Edomae-style (marinated fish) sushi but uses white vinegar in his rice rather than red vinegar. All of his nigiri and his otsumami (snack dishes) like the smoked monkfish liver are really good. And unlike some of Tokyo’s famous sushi restaurants, it’s still possible to get a booking. Kentarou Imamura, the chef at Sushi Imamura, learnt how to cook kaiseki but isn’t a sushi chef; his otsumami are really good. His wife is the sommelier and she can recommend both wine and sake. I like to match pinot gris with sushi.

Craving Chinese food

When I lived in Sydney, I used to eat at so many good Cantonese restaurants. I miss them. Sun Kee in Setagaya is the only restaurant that does real-deal Cantonese, not Japanese-Chinese food. It reminds me of the food that I’d get in Sydney at places like Golden Century. I always get the xiao long bao, too. I go to Sun Kee a lot: every weekend, actually.

Innovative French

Crony is a French restaurant by Kazutaka Ozawa and Michihiro Haruta who both worked at [Tokyo three-star] Quintessence. Haruta-san, the chef, has worked at three Michelin-starred restaurants and understands technique but isn’t fancy in the way he uses it. The wine pairings are also just beautiful.

From Italy with love

Yoji Tokuyoshi, the former sous chef at Osteria Francescana, was the first Japanese chef to get a Michelin star in Italy for his restaurant Tokuyoshi in Milan. Last year he opened Alter Ego and now divides his time between Tokyo and Milan. He serves modern Italian food and uses really good ingredients from Japan and Italy.

As told to Jessica Rigg from the Local Tongue. For more chef’s guides around the world, see thelocaltongue.com.

Related stories