Fathom editorial director Jeralyn Gerba recently had the good fortune to fly to Tokyo (thanks All Nippon Airways!) to have lunch at Noma Japan, the six-week pop-up restaurant and global culinary event that had the food world enthralled. She had the even better fortune of spending time in the kitchen with René Redzepi, the famed chef at Noma, currently the world's most headline-generating restaurant, where he shared a list of his favorite places to eat, drink, and be merry in Tokyo.
The best part of being invited to lunch at the short-lived Noma Japan pop-up was not having a seat at the most coveted table in the world (waitlist: 60,000 strong). Nor was it traveling like a cushy business woman on ANA (though the sleeper seats were a dream). No, it was spending time with chef René Redzepi and his passionate Scandinavian crew (Noma is located in Copenhagen)—hearing about the restaurant's New Nordic Cuisine philosophy, kitchen customs, and obsession with Japan.
As we stood around the kitchen watching dinner prep (ie: observing a poor soul meticulously splice Nagano wood ants into thirds), Redzepi spoke energetically about his favorite Tokyo discoveries. And why is this Danish chef so enamored of the city? "Tokyo is so easy to fall in love with because everything of the best is here. Everyone is so nice. But it is not so pretty, like a Scandinavian city. It's not too perfect. There's an undercurrent."
It was a generous sharing of recommendations—no idea hoarding here. I had one night left in Tokyo and immediately went to the vinyl bar he suggested. The other spots are on the top of my must-try list for the next time I go back.
Baller Meal: Mibu
Somewhere in Ginza, no website, no reservations
The fabled and wildly exclusive ichigen-san okotowari (invitation-only restaurant) is a figment of most people's imaginations. You cannot find it in a directory. You cannot make reservations. The only way in is to be invited by a member. "I was dying to go . . ." said Redzepi. "Then head chef [Hiroshi Ishida] came for dinner [at Noma]." After that, he opened up his eight-seat restaurant to the Noma crew for a whopping three Sundays in a row.
Spicy Ramen Shop: Karashibi Kikanbo
Kajicho 2-10-10, Kanda Station east exit, Chioda; +81-(0)3-3256-2960
Hot, hot, hot ramen. "Everything you want after a long day in the kitchen."
Tempura Bar: Mikawa Zezankyo
1-3-1 Fukuzumi, Koto; +81-(0)3-3664-9843
East of the Sumida River, there's a tiny restaurant serving one thing and one thing only: tempura of the edomae variety, meaning it adheres to seasonal ingredients of the Shigunate era. Reservations are a must.
Fancy Coffee Roaster: Switch Coffee
1-17-23 Meguro; Meguro; +81-(0)3-6420-3633
Imagine the discipline. Six different beans a day are served at this new-fangled coffee joint. "That's a unique offer." Right next door, Redzepi recalls, is a tiny spot where a husband-wife duo serves "a fantastic brunch."
Cheaper-Than-It-Should-Be Sushi Spot: Sushi Zanmai
Tsukiji Fish Market location, 7-3-13 Ginza, Chuo; +81-(0)3-3569-3288
Open 24/7 throughout the city, there are nine outposts stationed just around the corner from the world's most famous fish market. Says Redzepi, "Just go to see how good cheap chain sushi restaurants can be. Last time it was, like, $80 for three people. We had 20 pieces each and beer." There are various other locations, including the east exit of Shibuya Station.
Cocktail Joint: Gen Yamamoto
1-6-4 Azabu-Juban, Minato; +81-(0)3-6434-0652
An intimate drinking experience at an eight-seat bar. "Order the Bloody Mary just to watch the bartender peel a perfectly ripe Kochi tomato, then pulp it in a glass." The drink flight is a must.
Listening Session: JBS Bar
1-17-10 Dogenzaka, Shibuya, 2F; no phone
On the second floor of a nondescript building is a small room fill with jazz, blues, and soul records stacked on wooden shelves. Owner/vinyl collector Kobayashi Kazuhiro rocks thick glasses and the turntables as he pours gin, whiskey, and beer behind the tiny bar.
This post was originally published on Fathom.