I am afraid that I sadly neglected the restaurant-posts. The reason is possibly some kind of guilty feeling - well, who needs the unspoken resentment of many at the constant recital of culinary gratification? Apart from ramen and my ‘Akasaka lunch’ series so far I wrote less about food than I intended. The time has come to change this: we decided to write these posts in English, thus reaching out to a wider group with real chance to visit these places. Enough said, we are hungry, let’s get down to work!
We did not stumble upon this restaurant by chance - given the location, that would be next to impossible. About 18 months ago, gee, time flies fast! when Judit first visited me, we were invited here by one of her designer colleagues. The food, organically grown veggies they have their own farm! and fresh fish, made a lasting impression on us, so when last week we found ourselves in the neighbourhood, we decided to re-visit the place.
Nakayama is a small, family-run izagaya, a rather unassuming pub, the TV is on, showing a baseball match, with a simple wooden counter and five tables. We order some sake (“Momo-no-shizuku”) which arrives accompanied with the customary otóshi plate: this time it is a roll of seaweed wrapped around fish roe, a slice of kamaboko (fish cake) topped with wasabi and a small bunch of unidentified boiled green vegetables.
The chef also waits on the customers, so we dispense with the menu and discuss our options directly. We explain that we would like to have a small plate of sashimi, just a starter, not too much, as we are planning to have a number of dishes later. We end up with a large plate regardless - our mistake really, we should have said „ichi-nin mae” that is: for one person only - but it does not matter, as the fish is excellent. There are small pieces of aji (horse mackerel) with onion, warasa-buri (young amberjack), some unusually full-flavored saba (mackerel), and maguro (tuna). Only this last one is slightly disappointing, having a less-than-perfect texture. Besides the usual daikon (radish), shiso (perilla) and wasabi (horseradish), the sashimi is accompanied by an unfamiliar aonori (seaweed) that proves to be quite addictive.
Next, we order some vegetables: the grilled nasu (eggplant) with katsuobushi (bonito flakes) has a lovely, soft texture and a smoky flavour while the gobokinpira (burdock root) is crunchy-fresh, slightly spicy.
The chef asks us where we are from, oh, Hungary, really…! and perhaps in return for widening the range of customers, he presents us with anko liver (anglerfish; that ugly deep-sea beast). “Japanese foi gras”, he says, and indeed, the liver has the same soft texture albeit the flavor is milder.
To heighten the mom-and-pop feeling, we are just about to order some oden, when we notice gindara (butterfish) among the daily specials and decide to go for that instead. We also ask for some gohan (steamed rice). “Do you want some misoshiru with it?” asks the chef - of curse, we do, and as it arrives with a couple of small dishes (sábisu, he says, that is: for free*) we have no more room for anything else. The blackened, slightly sweet, crispy-skinned gindara is the perfect ending anyway. A nice, curiously smoky cup of green tee rounds out the experience.
The bill, under 10.000 yen for two, was very reasonable, considering the quality and the downtown location.
So was everything perfect? Yeah, except the usual Tokyo-problem: the guy next to us smoked like a chimney, now, that’s something I could live without. But this is an izagaya, after all - if you want smoke-free dining in Tokyo, go to a kaiseki restaurant and prepare to pay twice this amount...
Food: 7/10 (very good)
Ambiance: 5/10 (OK)
Price-performance: 8/10 (excellent)
Address: 2-5-9 Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Tel: +81 (3) 3405-9964
* sábisu comes from service