It took us a long time to discover the area around Yotsuya-sanchome station, despite passing by, across and under (by Marunouchi line) hundreds of times.We needed a final push - and that was provided by a friend, an architect who took us to a simple, old place for lunch after we visited his studio which is located on the south side of the station, in a quiet, leafy, residential area dotted with small temples. Hattori Hanzo (who was real enough, not just a fictional character in Kill Bill) is buried within the grounds of one of these.
The area where we had lunch, is on the other side, to the north-east of the station and it could not be more different with its warren of narrow streets that are packed with bars, izagayas and some unusually fine restaurants.
The Chef, Murata-san, worked for high-end kaiseki* restaurants before opening up his own place. The gamble has payed off, as he has already received one Michelin star - but to his credit, he has not changed either his prices or the simple, homely atmosphere of his restaurant. The mid-size dinner course, for around 6000 yen, may sound expensive, but for a dinner of this kind, this is excellent value. The nihonshu** selection is equally nice and quite reasonably priced.
On our spring visit, the course included kegani (horsehair crab) with ginger, a combination of uni-avokado-yuba in a sweet sauce flavoured with wasabi, red hotate ika (squid) with karashi (mustard), kinmedai (golden eye snapper) in salty-sour pondzu, grilled slices of amadai (Japanese tilefish) with fukinoto tempura and takenoko (bamboo shoots) combined with hotate (scallops) in a sweet ankake sauce.
In October, we were greeted with a seasonal selection: kurumaebi (Japanese tiger prawn), kamasu (barracuda), kaki (persimmon), ginnan (ginkgo nuts), kinoko (mushroom) and mizuna ae (boiled Japanese mustard leaves), decorated by an ear of rice puffed up like popcorn, as a token of the recent harvest. This was followed by tamajimushi, a soup-like concoction with eggs and sea urchin.
The otsukuri (sashimi) consisted of katsuo (bonito), honmaguro (Pacific bluefin tuna), kanpachi (greater amberjack), ika (squid) and tai (seabream). Dinner always ends with takekomi gohan (seasoned rice), misoshiru soup and a small desert. By this point, we are usually so stuffed that we can just taste the rice. The rest is made into onigiri (rice balls) that can be taken home for breakfast.
Food: 9/10 (truly remarkable)
Ambiance: 6/10 (nice place)
Price-performance: 9/10 (amazingly good value)
Address: 7-9 Arakicho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
Tel: +81 (3) 3350-1178
Tel: +81 (3) 3350-1178
* kaiseki is a traditional multi-course dinner. The seasonal dishes are served one by one and each small plate looks exquisite, like a miniature painting.
**nihonshu is called 'sake' around the world. In Japan, sake means all kinds of alcoholic drinks, while rice wine is referred to as 'Japanese alcohol' (nihonshu).