Last weekend I jumped on a plane to Tokyo to go on a food crawl, check out the cherry blossoms, and spend some time with my BFF American Girl in Asia who had recently moved there from Seoul. Luckily for me and my bank account, she has a gorgeous 2 bedroom apartment in the hip and happening neighbourhood of Roppongi. So I had extra cash to blow on lots of yummy things to eat and drink.
1. Teppanyaki – On my first night we headed to Shinjuku to try American Girl in Asia’s favourite Teppanyaki Restaurant Kabukicho. We enjoyed a fabulous meal of chicken and veggies (7,000 JPY) cooked right on the grill in front of us by the most handsome chef ever. The best part of the restaurant is you can choose which fish, meat, and vegetables you would like individually so it can be as cheap or as expensive as you like. We washed it all down with some Sake (1,700 JPY), which came in a stunning blue bottle and the prettiest glasses. It was the perfect meal to start the trip, and felt indulgent without being unhealthy.
2. Ramen – You can’t go to Tokyo without having a bowl of the city’s most famous noodle dish. We headed to Afuri which is one of the most popular chains in the city. They are famous for their Yuza Ramen, though I went for the Shio(1,100 JNY). The reason for heading to Afuri is that American Girl in Asia is vegetarian and this place offers a vegan ramen which is filled with a selection of veggies. We washed down our noodles with a Suntori Lemon Cocktail (600 JPY) which was very light and refreshing.
3. Gyoza & Champagne – I love a good gyoza, so when I found a tiny little restaurant that specializes in them along with champagne I was in seventh heaven. The Gyoza are 500 JPY for 6, or 900 JPY for 12. They have meat and vegan varieties which was perfect for me and my vegetarian friend. The Gyoza came with four fabulous dipping sauces; tomato, miso, tapenade, and soy sauce and vinegar. There was also truffle oil and Himalayan pink salt, which we liberally applied to our little dumplings. For such a small place there is a decent selection of champagne and sparkling wine available. As we went during happy hour (5pm-6:30pm) our glass of Polivert Jacques Brut was only 500 JPY. Despite it being the cheapest glass available it was absolutely lovely.
4. Soba Noodles – One of the cutest neighbourhoods just off of Shinjuku Station is Memory Lane, which is a quaint series of alleyways filled with Izakayas and tiny little restaurants. One restaurant that we tried and loved was Kameya. The small counter-seating-only restaurant specializes in soba noodles, hot and cold. There is a picture menu to help you choose but I was advised to get the Soba with Tempura (37 JPY). I love a good soba, though I am used to eating them cold. We ordered ours hot, but I wish I had tried the cold version too. At less than $4 they are probably one of the cheapest and most filling meals in the city. If you aren’t in the mood for noodles then I am sure one of the many meat skewer joints will take your fancy.
5. Pariya – After two days of non stop eating, I was in the mood for something a little bit healthier, so we headed to Pariya, which also has several branches throughout the city. We had he most lovely and healthy Set Lunch (1,200 JNY). The menu changes daily but the fresh and healthy food concept stays the same. For 1,200 JPY you get a main dish, a salad, a side dish, a bowl of rice, a soup, and a drink. It was terrific value and there was such a beautiful selection of foods. It was clean eating at its finest, with a nice Japanese twist.
6. Aoyama Flower Market– When exploring the high end shopping area of Ommote-Sando, we passed this Flower Shop which had a queue a mile long. We headed into the flower shop-cum-cafe and found that it was absolutely stunning. So we came back for lunch a few days later when it was less busy. The place specializes in tea and desserts but also offers a few savory items. We ordered the beautiful Chicken Salad (1200 JPY) which came with soup, and the Lemon French Toast (1,000 JPY). The food was simple and well done, but it is the greenhouse style restaurant filled with fresh seasonal flowers that really takes your breath away.
7. Andaz Hotel – I love a good luxury all you can drink brunch, so we decided to try the brunch at The Tavern, Grill & Lounge. The brunch costs 6,500 JNY per person and it is an extra 4,500 JNY for unlimited champagne, wine and beer. The brunch includes unlimited starters which are all brought to your table, our favourites were the French Toast, Banana, Waffle and Ham plate. After we were filled with appetizers we moved on to the soup of the day which was roasted bean, followed by your choice of main course. There were plenty of choices available including a delightful croissant eggs benedict, pork cutlet, roasted ribeye and seafood brochette. It being a Sunday and all, I couldn’t resist getting the roast beef which is sliced at the table, it was a real show stopper. We were pretty full after all the savory dishes and champagne, which never stopped flowing but still managed to find room for the dessert buffet which had around 15-20 different choices, including the made to order Crepe Suzette with homemade ice cream. Be sure to save room, it is not to be missed.
8. Senoji Temple – We headed to the Senoji Temple and explored the most beautiful old and traditional area filled with tiny restaurants, cafes, and shops. In the lovely spring sunshine it was a joy to explore. Since we had already eaten lunch before arriving, we found a cute little dessert shop, where we enjoyed a Mochi Strawberry Shaved Ice (800 JPY). They are also famous for their ice cream stuffed buns. There seemed to be several of these places dotted around, along with other restaurants selling all kinds of famous Japanese foods so you will surely find something good to eat.
9. Golden Gai – Another cool and old little area filled with hidden alleyways is Golden Gai. Unlike nearby Memory Lane this place is filled with bars. They are tiny little rooms serving basic drinks, however some have a cover charge. Several of the bars have signs outside offering to waive the cover charge for foreigners. A friend told me the reason is that the Japanese tend to drink slowly, where as foreigners pound their drinks meaning they spend more in a shorter time. After walking around, we ended up at a Jim Beam Bar, there was no cover and all the drinks were 500 JPY each. They also offered karaoke for 100 JPY per song which we adored. It was packed by the time we left at 10:30pm on a Monday, so I’m sure its even more rocking on the weekend!
10. Convenience Stores – I was torn with what to put last, but if you have never been to Japan before you absolutely have to hit up the convenience stores. There are three main chain stores, Lawsons, 7-11, and Family Mart all of which have a huge variety of foods there, it’s like a mini supermarket. They have fresh fruits, veggies, meats and cheese, microwave meals of everything you could imagine, ramen, snacks, desserts, drinks, and booze. Everything is super cheap, and they even have hot food to go or eat in like croquettes, spring rolls, and fried chicken. Whether you are on a budget or not, it is worth eating at least one meal from your nearest store.