Picks in Japan

Japan, well where to start? Recently we had the privilege of visiting Japan, travelling to 4 different cities in 10 days in search of local gems. Quietly tucked away amidst the bustling streets lay a plethora of cosy single-counter eateries and bars.

Each gem boasts a distinctive ambiance and character and charm. From relaxed izakaya-style establishments reminiscent of tapas bars, serving an array of delectable small dishes and delicacies, to featureless slate-back sliding doors offering no hints to the exclusive and extensive selection of sake, wines, and eclectic dishes inside.

Having carefully curated a list of our favourite establishments, we invite you to slide the doors and step into the world of Japan’s intimate indulgent delights. Enjoy!

The Sunset Beach, Kyoto

Nestled just off the banks of the Kamo River in Shimogyo Ward, The Sunset Beach stands as a renovated old private two-story house, now transformed into a gourmet restaurant and listening bar. The interior exudes traditional Japanese opulence, featuring intricate carpentry and rich detailing, complemented by tatami-style seating and a spacious single-counter bar. With all dishes freshly prepared and cooked in the open kitchen, guests have the opportunity to observe the culinary artistry firsthand. Indulge in an array of small, seasonal plates, perfectly paired with the ambient sounds of the owner's personal collection of records and a diverse selection of natural wines and sake. Let the head chef and owner, Daisuke Shikata, take the lead and immerse yourself in perfection in every sense. 


Sowado, Tokyo

From the outside, Sowado presents an obscure concrete wall with a simple, slate-black metal sliding door, offering no hints of the exclusive and extensive menu they have on offer. It seamlessly blends the casual ambiance of an izakaya with the sophistication of a desired Japanese restaurant. Upon the enigmatic entrance into a portal of Tokyo’s most highly-sought dining experiences of intricate presentation and meticulous refinement.

As you enter through the second sliding door, you are greeted by a space anchored with a striking wooden counter that surrounds the spectacular open kitchen. Immediately you are drawn to the vibrant and sophisticated atmosphere. Your eyes glance towards the ‘Genshiyaki’, skewers of fish and meat grilled slowly over a charcoal brazier. This discreet yet classy establishment encapsulates traditional Kyushu delicacies with a menu that is extensive alongside an eclectic selection of sake and natural local wine. If local wine isn't to your taste, they also have a wide range of French wine. Reservations permitted, the thick succulent panko-crusted Unzen ham cutlet served with a tangy Worcestershire-based sauce is a must-try along with the signature assortment of sashimi, wagyu-beef, and fresh fish skewers!


Ayagawa, Tokyo

Situated a mere five-minute walk from Ebisu Station, in the vibrant neighbourhood of Ebisu, Tokyo, the ramen restaurant Ayagawa stands as a hidden gem and a local favourite. Its cosy and inviting atmosphere instantly puts you at ease, with a tatami-lined seven-seat counter, creating a relaxed and comforting ambiance similar to someone’s living room. Using the food ticket vending machine to order its renowned umami-filled handcrafted chicken broth noodles, the menu offers a choice between two types of noodles - medium-thick and extra-thick, all hand-pulled using green bamboo and aged overnight, resulting in an irresistibly chewy texture and consistency. For those still craving more after slurping down their bowl, the 'oyadori meshi' provides a generous side of rice cooked with succulent fried chicken thighs and crispy skin. While the menu boasts a limited selection, rest assured, it never fails to impress!


Kyuu/Qyuu, Tokyo 

We visited lots of Izakayas in Japan (literally meaning "stay-drink-place", a place for food and drinks, learn more here), one establishment stood out among the rest: Qyuu, nestled in the Koenji area of Tokyo. True to the essence of izakayas, its unassuming sliding door conceals the enchanting intimacy and beauty within. Qyuu, in particular, exuded warmth and ambiance unlike any other, evident in the trinkets and small key rings adorning the bar, collected over the years, as well as the welcoming demeanour of both locals and staff. Upon arrival, we were treated to a Japanese izakaya classic: potato salad, cooked soft and roughly mashed, mixed with Kewpie mayo, egg, and spring onion, followed by small plates of fresh sashimi and ample sake. When it comes to izakayas, the Qyuu is as personal and intimate as it gets.


 Winestand Waltz, Tokyo

Down the backstreets of Ebisu, Winestand Waltz emerges as a quaint oasis—a petite, standing-room-only wine bar accommodating a mere eight guests. Owned by antique enthusiast, Yasuhiro Ooyama, this tiny establishment exudes elegance and vintage charm. From its curated selection of wines hailing from France and Italy to its adornments of posters, books, and zines celebrating French filmmakers and beyond, every detail exudes charm and elegance. The daily-changing blackboard menu offers a delightful selection, from classic savoury small snacks to indulgent sweet treats. 



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