three great places - Ginza (Tokyo)
Written by Yukari Sakamoto, Illustration by Philip Bannister
Olympic host 1964
The shopping district Ginza has some of Tokyo’s best restaurants. Its proximity to Tsukiji Market guarantees the freshest seafood.
Classic Edo-style nigirizushi is the quintessential Japanese meal, but finding a restaurant where one can feel welcome and comfortable is not easy. One of the luxuries of Ginza Kyubey – one of the city’s celebrated sushi destinations – is that the restaurant is accustomed to non-Japanese diners. This third-generation shop has been serving sushi since 1924. Diners may be seated at the sushi counter in front of an English-speaking chef who can explain the intricacies of the seasonal seafood. The sushi chef may ask you if he should change the size of the shari (vinegared rice) or the amount of freshly grated wasabi. This thoughtful act is rarely seen, and can only be offered by a skilled artist. While most high-end sushi restaurants are only open for dinner, Kyubey is also open for lunch.
Diners at Tempura Kondo are seated at a white counter that overlooks the simple batterie de cuisine of the kitchen. Before you sits a cutting board, knives, bowl of batter, bronze wok of hot oil, and chopsticks. Chef Fumio Kondo is considered by many to be one of the top tempura chefs in the city for his delicate handling of seasonal vegetables and seafood. Signature items are the julienned carrots, sora mame (fava beans), and a dense satsuma imo (sweet potato). It is so quiet that one can hear the handiwork behind the counter. Part of the dining experience is listening to the sound of the tempura as it sizzles in the hot oil. Each course is served as it emerges from the oil. Diners can dip the tempura in a soy broth as traditionally consumed, but at Kondo many prefer to season it with salt so as not to disturb the delicate, lacy batter.
Ginza Ukai-tei is decorated with glamorous art nouveau pieces such as works by René Lalique and Emile Galle, a nice change from the ubiquitous simple zen-like spaces. While private rooms are commonplace in Japanese restaurants, here you have your own personal chef preparing the best Japanese seasonal ingredients on a hot iron grill. Ukai-tei elevates teppanyaki to an art form as marbled wagyu (Japanese beef) and vegetables are seared to perfection. Other highlights include steamed abalone, lobster with black truffles, and chilled uni soup. Dinner ends with classic French pastries selected from a dessert trolley. Diners at lunch are invited to linger over petits-fours such as madeleines and macaroons in the dessert lounge.
Chuo-ku, Ginza 8-7-6
Chuo-ku, Ginza 5-5-13,
Chuo-ku, Ginza 5-15-8,