Locale

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Locale - Restaurant by the River in Meguro

Walking into Locale, a small restaurant near the river in Meguro, customers feel as though they’re entering someone’s home. The chef, Katy Cole, welcomes them with a smile from behind the counter, where other guests—who may have been strangers only moments before—share stories and discuss wine preferences. “It feels like a dinner party every night,” Cole says. The story of how Cole came to open Locale is an unlikely one, full of chance encounters and serendipitous twists of fate. The Los Angeles native spent the first decade of her career cooking in San Francisco. When she first visited Japan on a whim, it was only for a ten-day holiday. Still, she “felt like there was something more,” and six months later she was back again, this time for a longer stay. During that second trip, she began making the connections that would soon lead to her leaving California behind to live in Japan full time. After spending several months doing pop-up cooking events whenever and wherever she could, Cole was hired as the savoury chef to open what would quickly become a popular bakery and cafe in Daikanyama. It was during this time that she learnt that the restaurant that previously occupied Locale’s space would be closing. She immediately put up her hand to take over the lease. “On the second or third day of my first trip to Japan, I came here and sat at this counter and thought, I would love to have a restaurant like this one day,” she says. Over time she became friends with the owner of that restaurant, and even though he questioned whether she would be able to make the space work for her, she knew she was going to try. And not only did she try, she succeeded. “I opened the restaurant four years to the day from when I came here the first time,” Cole says. At Locale, vegetables take centre stage. Every week, the restaurant gets deliveries from small farms across Japan, the contents of which are unknown until they are opened. It is only at this time that the chef begins planning the menu, which changes slightly each day. “We use such special ingredients and the farmers put a lot of care and energy into what they’re growing, and for me to peel it all away or make it into some other shape seems like a little bit of a waste to me,” Cole says. “The quality of the vegetables is so nice, I don’t need to do too much to them. So I guess my philosophy is just that simple is best.” A night at Locale might see a menu that includes colourful roasted vegetables with cashew cream, lentils and avocado with a bright pink sauce made of yogurt and shibazuke pickles, Spanish mackerel with quinoa and roasted root vegetables, and pork shoulder with whipped taro root and greens. “I feel that everything sort of comes together, from the honesty of the people growing the vegetables, to serving … Read More

Lunco

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Lunco, well-preserved antique kimono and fabrics. Sells vintage kimono & vintage fabric

Ranko Nagata always knew she would end up in a creative line of work, but until one fateful first visit to a flea market some four decades ago, she had never imagined her life would be exactly what it is today. At the time working as a glass blower, Nagata visited the market to get inspiration and ideas for her art. “I found a box full of old fabric, and a very surprising thing happened. It was as if it was talking to me, as if it had life. My mother wore a kimono so I was used to and interested in kimono fabric, but this was a whole new experience,” she recalls. “The fabrics at the market were old, dating back to the Edo period, and they were naturally dyed in very basic, neutral colours of indigo and beige. But for me, they were alive and fresh. I immediately bought the entire box and started making things with them.” Ever since that day, vintage fabrics have been Nagata’s passion. She continued making glass art for some time, but she was also making frequent visits to markets to satisfy her insatiable thirst for old textiles, which she used to make small crafts and patchwork bed covers. Eventually she was asked to help out at a vintage fabric store, which ended up being the final nail in the coffin of her glass blowing career. “I gradually became more obsessed with fabrics than I was with glass work,” she says. “Fabric became so much more interesting to me.” Nagata opened her own shop about 20 years after that first flea market encounter. Called Lunco—a creative, alternative spelling of her first name—it has been in its present location for about a decade. She sells vintage kimono and vintage fabric cuttings, the majority of which are at least 100 years old. She finds them at auctions and then often hangs onto them for months or years before putting them in the shop. “When we sell things, we set a theme. Rather than selling them right away when we find them at auctions or markets, we keep them until the collection for the theme is complete, however long it takes. We want customers to feel the theme and the things we have collected,” she says. Nagata likens creating these themes—or “worlds,” as she calls them—to making works of art. It’s her creative outlet, she says. Past themes at Lunco have included crimson and purple, autumn plants, and distant turquoise. And she still prepares all the kimono and fabrics herself, carefully steaming the wrinkles out, while she murmurs a thank you to the backside of the fabric (expressing her gratitude to past wearers) and a request to take care of future wearers to the front side. While some might call Nagata a workaholic—she proudly boasts of only taking New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day off each year—she is clearly driven by passion and a genuine love for what she does. She has a childlike fascination … Read More

Sushisho

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Sushisho - Sushi Restaurant. Probably the most influential sushi chef working in Japan today – and Sushisho is more than just his restaurant. To his growing band of protégées...

People who know sushi know Keiji Nakazawa. His name rarely figures on high-profile star-ranking systems, but he is probably the most influential sushi chef working in Japan today – and Sushisho is more than just his restaurant. To his growing band of protégées, it is an academy; to devotees of his cuisine, it is Mecca. Nakazawa’s philosophy falls within the broad church of Edomae sushi, or ‘sushi in the style of Edo’ (the old name for Tokyo), which in its purest form is the combination of sliced raw seafood on top of vinegared rice. For inspiration, Nakazawa reached back in time to the earliest traditions of Edomae sushi, while at the same time evolving the cuisine in directions that are both innovative and stunning to behold. For example, modern sushi norms dictate that the fish must be as fresh as possible, yet before refrigeration technology it was commonly treated to make it last longer. Nakazawa resurrected this tradition by ageing, marinating, simmering or searing his seafood to achieve maximum flavour. He is also fastidious about rice, and uses two different grains depending on the seafood they’re cushioning: simple white rice for simple, delicate fish; and less common red rice for fattier, fuller flavoured species. He varies the seasoning – vinegar, salt or soy – to balance the taste, and famously serves his rice warmer than is customary. The fixed omakase course service at Sushisho can begin with a delicate slice of cooked squid stuffed with rice and dotted in three places with concentrated soy sauce. It may include a pocket of aji (horse mackerel) filled with threads of ginger, shiso and cucumber. It will certainly include slithers of tuna, yellowtail or squid laden with taste from being aged for days or even weeks. And extras such as monkfish liver lying back-to-back with pickled baby watermelon on a bed of red rice would be a crime to miss. Nakazawa set his sights set on becoming a shokunin (artisan) of sushi when he was just 15 years old. His journey began on a delivery bicycle, weaving the crowded streets of Tokyo with boxes of sushi piled high on his shoulder. Later, he travelled the country “like a nomad” honing his skills and learning regional traditions and techniques. The sushi world became his family: he lived with the other apprentices, ate and drank with his teachers, and learned to enjoy interacting with customers. In January 2016, Nakazawa upped sticks and moved to Hawaii for his next adventure, opening a branch of Sushisho in Waikiki. But his spirit lives on at his former restaurant and in the talents of those he schooled in the Sushisho way. “You can’t run a restaurant alone,” Nakazawa says. “More than skill, teamwork and communication are most important.” He is mentor to several of Tokyo’s most highly regarded young sushi chefs. To them, he is always – even in his absence – called oyakata, a term that combines respect with endearment, marking him out as akin to an honorary … Read More

Tanyaki Shinobu

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Tanyaki beef tongue restaurant

Every evening, when most other restaurant owners are waiting anxiously for their first customer, Shinobu Uesugi is already hard at work taking orders, passing out plates, and pouring cold beers. Soon after 6pm, Tanyaki Shinobu, her specialist beef-tongue restaurant, is full. It’s been this way ever since Uesugi opened her restaurant in 1979. “For the first two or three months, we didn’t even have a sign out front. People from the neighbourhood just dropped in,” she recalls. Although grilled beef tongue (tanyaki) features on the menus of many Japanese restaurants, even in Tokyo’s diversified dining scene, few would dare to make it their specialty. The menu at Shinobu includes eight beef tongue dishes – grilled, boiled and stewed. The tongue stew at Shinobu is simmered for 10 many hours, starting the night before it’s served, until the meat is so tender it’s practically falling apart. Uesugi’s husband, Tokujiro Uesugi, opened his first restaurant the young couple were still in their early twenties. They served western food like pizza and steak in Kabukicho, an area of Shinjuku that later developed a notorious reputation. As the neighbourhood went downhill, the Uesugis decided it was time for a change. Moving to the business district of Yotsuya, local ‘salarymen’ became the couple’s core clientele. Many of them come back at least once a week, and Uesugi and a handful of ladies in pinafores serve them with the rough familiarity of favourite aunties. “I added some vegetable dishes to prevent the regulars getting bored of tongue,” Uesugi says. “But people who come here often know they can trust us, and just ask us to serve whatever we recommend.” The home-cooked style of the cuisine fits the rustic interior, for which the wooden posts and beams came from dismantled storehouses that were reassembled using a traditional form of carpentry employing no nails or screws. To accessorise with this structure, the tables and stools are made from logs and slices of tree trunks. On weekends, the suits and ties of the salarymen are gone, replaced by a younger and trendier crowd of smartphone-enabled foodies. Old-fashioned dishes like tanyaki are making a comeback. And Uesugi’s maternal hospitality never goes out of fashion. “These days, people find us online and trek here from all over the place,” she says. “It makes me happy to see all these young faces.” Looking back over almost four decades of restaurant work, Uesugi isn’t shy about explaining her decision to settle on such a specific cuisine: “I had thought about opening a yakitori restaurant. But that means starting work early in the morning to cut all that chicken and skewer it. With this, you just have to season it, cook it, and serve it,” she says. “We provide speedy service, and our patrons enjoy the food. Everybody’s happy!”

Sushisho Masa

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Sushisho Masa sushi restaurant

When Masakatsu Oka decided he wanted to become a sushi chef, he knew there was something he needed to fix. Lacking neither passion nor commitment, it was in a sense his body that looked set to let him down. “It’s because, truth be told, I’m left-handed,” confesses Oka, a trait that even today is considered undignified by some Japanese. Not wanting this perceived weakness to ruin his culinary ambitions, Oka could be found nightly practising cutting cabbage into thin strips with his right hand until, in his words, “I no longer feared the knife.” It clearly worked. He moves the blade with swift, deft strokes, lightly scoring a slice of squid with dozens of fine, diagonal cuts. He angles his knife to the right, and repeats the action in the other direction to make a crisscross pattern so that when the flesh touches one’s tongue, it feels like it’s melting. But Oka credits his skills less to his late-night cabbage training and more to his mentor, Keiji Nakazawa of Sushisho (p.XX). “Nakazawa-san is the person I respect most,” Oka says. “If I hadn’t met him, this restaurant wouldn’t exist.” Sushisho Masa, the name of Oka’s restaurant, is testament to that. The practice is known as noren-wake, or ‘dividing the noren’ – the noren being the curtain above the door that bears a restaurant’s name. By permitting him to use the Sushisho name, the mentor gives a public blessing to his acolyte’s new venture, indicating that the young man is equipped to safeguard his legacy. An honour of that level must be earned, and Oka is no stranger to hard work. He says that losing his mother at an early age taught him to be independent. And that the punishing schedule of his early years learning the sushi trade – starting work at 7.30am, and ending around midnight – was a lesson in endurance. “Find out how far you can push yourself and then push even further,” he says, sounding more marathon runner than chef. Indeed, as he works behind Sushisho Masa’s cosy seven-seat counter, Oka controls every movement and every breath. As the cuts of his knife create a staccato rhythm, his words meet the beat, becoming almost meditative as he describes each dish: aji (horse mackerel) is served with a dab of acidic hacchomiso, a deeply flavoured dark miso from Western Japan; rectangles of katsuo (bonito) come sandwiching paper-thin slices of garlic marinated in soy sauce to mellow the taste; and his decadent signature dish of three succulent slices of o-toro lightly layered with wasabi to create what he calls the ‘Masa-feuille’. Oka’s eyes twinkle as he presents rare ingredients such as grilled anago liver, or octopus eggs simmered in dashi – all likely to surprise even the most dedicated lover of sushi. “I always keep my eyes open for new ideas. That’s what I try to teach my guys,” he says, gesturing towards his staff of three young apprentices. “I want them to become the kind of people … Read More

Miyako Andon

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Timeless handmade Japanese lamps by Miyako Andon

[Please make a reservation before visiting Miyako Andon.] A wooden model of an old Japanese house – complete with tiny sliding screens – sits in the corner of Masanori Kizaki’s office. With the flick of a switch, the house illuminates. “My ancestors built models like this as souvenirs for the foreigners who came to Japan after the war,” says Kizaki, the fourth generation of his family to lead their handcrafted lamp business, Miyako Andon. These days, Kizaki’s contemporary lamps – made using similarly detailed Japanese woodwork and joinery techniques, but updated with the his own modern sensibilities – also find their way into homes around the world. “These ones are going to New York City,” he says, pointing at two minimalist cubes destined to hang in a Manhattan kitchen. “A very particular customer.” The business dates from the late 19th Century when Kizaki’s great grandfather was a ‘shokunin’ (artisan) making delicately latticed, painstakingly assembled wooden screens known as ‘kumiko’. His son – Kizaki’s grandfather – began manufacturing lamps before World War Two, and continued selling them afterwards to Americans in the Allied occupation force. An ‘andon’ is a traditional, wood-framed, paper-sided lamp that originally would have contained a small vessel of burning oil as a source of light. Some ‘andon’ were portable and could be carried from room to room, or out into the streets at night. With electrification, however, their utility faded. “In postwar Japan, most people lived in cluttered apartments with pre-installed ceiling lights,” observes Kizaki. “But the younger generation is starting to think more about design.” Kizaki has always thought that way. When he was a student, he would spend his weekends in Tokyo’s fashionable west side – in Aoyama, Omotesando and Daikanyama – soaking up the new fashions and modern architecture. The clean lines and pure geometry of his products reflect his passion for structures and spaces. The Tsukika lamp, a globe of interlocking, paper-covered triangles is his most recognizable design. “Every component comes from another artisan: the wood from northern Japan, the ‘washi’ paper from Shikoku,” he says, referring to a large island in western Japan. “In other lamps, instead of paper we use patterned cloths hand-dyed by a craftsman here in Tokyo.” At his office, a short taxi ride from Nippori railway station, the old and the new stand side by side. The showroom (viewable by appointment) is a simple concrete box – with a void filled by natural light at its core – built to Kizaki’s own plan. The classic Mini Cooper parked outside? That’s his too. Next-door is the old workshop, with sawing machines, wood presses and lamp skeletons, stacked high and waiting to be papered. The company’s seven workers includes five members of the Kizaki family – among them the craftsman’s wife, Toshiko, who speaks fluent English and handles international sales. “To be a successful ‘shokunin’ these days, it’s not enough just to make beautiful and enduring things,” says Kizaki, the last traditional ‘andon’ maker in Tokyo. “You need to adapt … Read More