Kokoromai is one of those places hidden in plain sight. Fronting Gaien Nishi-dori, it looks easy to find on any map, yet we twice walked past the unmarked staircase leading up to the second floor restaurant. That was last year, when we first read about it in of all places a week-end edition of the FT. Several visits later, we still feel that slight thrill that comes from insider knowledge. However, that thrill alone would not tempt us back; what draws us in is the consistently high-level cooking.
As its name suggests, the very essence of Kokoromai* is the rice, individually prepared indonabe (earthenware cooking pot). There are 12 varieties to choose from; some are soft and light, others are mochi-mochi (chewy) or have a deeper flavour. Gohan (rice) is the first thing to order here, as the traditional cooking method needs at least 40 minutes. On this visit, we decide on Sawanohana from Yamagata prefecture and Sasanishiki from Miyagi.
Having dealt with the essentials, we turn our attention to the seasonal menu. We order a plate of hamachi (young amberjack) from the list of sashimi and sawara no shioyaki (Spanish mackerel grilled in salt) from the grill. The sashimi soon arrives and is excellent; soft and buttery. By the time the grilled fish arrives, we have also wrestled with the regular Japanese menu and with a bit of help have ordered cucumbers with mugimiso (miso with barley) andyamaimo (yam) tofu sooo good I cannot believe we never tried this before! We wash it all down with a junmai ginjo-shu** from Iwate.
As the portions are quite small, we feel free to mix and match, so we scan the menu again and ask for a plate of lightly fried pork cutlet. This is very far from a wienerschnitzel, we think as we dip the bit-sized pieces into a spicy-salty-lemony sauce.
Finally, the rice arrives, each type in its own heavy, glazed pot covered with a snugly fitting lid. The rounded, dark brown pots, sitting on a wooden tray are so beautiful, that we contemplate them for a few minutes before lifting the lid with the strip of cotton cloth provided for the purpose. Tasting the two types of rice side by side, we do detect slight differences in taste and texture, but we would probably need more practice in order to truly appreciate the subtle nuances. There is a lovely, thin golden crust of rice at the bottom of the pot that we almost fight for. Umeboshi and misoshiru completes the meal.
Kokoromai is a tiny place, even for Tokyo. The counter seats ten and the two private rooms four each, thus it is better to reserve in advance.
Food: 8/10 (excellent)
Ambiance: 6/10 (nice place)
Price-performance: 5/10 (OK)
* Kokoromai 心米 means heart and rice
** junmai means that it is pure rice wine, without any added alcohol; in ginjo sake the rice has had the outer 40% of the grains polished away, resulting in a delicate, fragrant, complex taste.
Address: 2 F 6-18-7, Shirokane, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Tel: +81 (3) 5793-4556