No guide is ever definitive, but most are extremely helpful – here are some of my favourite places I visited while on holiday in Tokyo recently, on assignment for nobody but myself and my face. Food things, booze things, cute things, etc.
About Life Coffee Brewers
I had big plans to become acquainted with the specialty coffee shops of Tokyo but I simply could not move past About Life Coffee Brewers each and every morning.
Their use of space defines smart design: About Life is essentially a housed bar with two windows two order and a single bench to lean and loiter upon with your coffee of choice (I strongly recommend their cold brew on a warm day). Working against the tide of Starbucks culture should be easy with coffee and a collaborative spirit as sensational as this. Wataru greeted me almost every day and was patient and kind in correcting my waning Japanese – by the end of the trip my coffee order for two was fluent.
Too many places on my unofficial coffee tour list remained unchecked as I boarded my final flight home, but no regrets. About Life Coffee Brewers is the coolest spot craft
1-19-8 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0043
How good can one cheesecake be? Good enough for three grown adults to huddle in a corner in busy Shibuya scarfing an entire cake of warm, barely set cheese goo at lightning speed – the scrum of the shameless. Let the illuminated oozing cheesecake guide you to their store of traditional cheesecake offerings (“classic” or “rare” style) as well as matcha flavours. Join the queue and experience the happy production line from mixing, to baking, to glazing to branding. Witness the birth of beautiful cake, then end it on the curb, in the gutter, like my friends and I did – for an extra few yen they’ll throw in some plastic spoons for you.
This location has since closed
Yet another wonderful outpost of the Danish original – a little piece of Europe in the back streets of Shibuya complete with shiny floors and Keith Shore artwork.
2-19-11 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
This street in Tokyo (affectionately refered to as “Kitchen Town”) exists only for the procurement of kitchen utensils. In Japan’s case, the world of hospitality goods also blankets sampuru, or fake plastic food displays, those immaculate models of bowls of curry, crêpes dotted with piped whipped cream and plates of spaghetti so often found at the entrance of restaurants. You can buy all these things on Kappabashi Street, from rice cookers to noodle bowls, specialty coffee equipment to commercial deep fryers, but the fake food and their novel fridge magnet and key ring spinoffs are the main attraction here, at least for me.
Also, trolling a gaggle of burger experts online by taking a photo of and reviewing a fake plastic burger once I arrived home may have been the best money I’d ever spent.
Nishiasakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo 111-0035
What if I told you this roadside, sunset yakitori around the corner from Kappabashi was incredible? What if I told you the husband of this sweet, elderly couple smacked his wife on the arse right after I took these photo? A tear-jerking experience all ’round.
Mita Seimen Jo
A place accidentally discovered many years ago by following flocks of salarymen inside immediately after a long flight: chewy tsukemen in sludgey broth was an unlikely remedy but you can’t argue with what the heart wants. I come here anytime I visit Tokyo.
1-13-3 Nishishinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 160-0023
Shiro-Hige’s Cream Puff Factory
In the cutest corner of a leafy residential street of Shimokitazawa sits the Shiro-Hige’s Cream Puff shop. Keep an eye out for the painted sign of three Totoros, acorns and mushrooms at the front as the quaint operation is easily mistaken for somebody’s home. The factory specialises in one thing: choux pastry shaped as adorable Totoros filled with a variety of seasonal flavours. The staff are as sweet as their offerings, and if a box of Totoros is purchased they’ll ensure the little guys are facing each other to avoid being lonely on your journey home. I can guarantee that, despite your best efforts to not be that guy, you’ll be squealing “kawaii!!!!” faster than you can say “I’ll take one of each” (or pointing to what you want with a stupid, slumped jaw).
5-3-1 Daita, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo 150-0033
The World’s Second Best Freshly Baked Melon-Pan Ice Cream
Crisp, warm melon bread paired with cool, cool ice cream – it’s genius. This outlet was on the way to dinner, but its scent lingered half way down the street. Oblivious to what this product actually was I watched curiously as people took to the neighbouring alley with these mysterious cones and a straw. I joined the queue, I was annointed by the world’s second best freshly baked melon-pan ice cream, I blended into the alley crowd and was elated. More and more people (like myself 10 minutes ago) fixated by the bakery fragrance curiously stopped before the modest storefront and jumped in line. Circle of life. I ruined my dinner and it was so good. Oh yeah, the guy running the shop was an absolute blast.
1-15-9 Jinnan, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0041
Beautiful bar, vast selection of drinks: head down the staircase illuminated by blue fairly lights. While I wish it were easy for me to erase my first memory of Craftheads, witnessing a disastrous first date within earshot, the beers are rare and the menu, at time of visitation, is pork heavy. I’m a big fan.
1-13-10 Jinnan, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0041
If you need to walk off all that you ate while on Holidays, Shimokitazawa is the perfect neighbourhood for it.
The Roastery by Nozy Coffee
Specialty coffee in a warehouse conversion setting with plenty of outdoor seating and broad window sills acting as tabletops. There are beans roasting up the back so expect excellent coffee as well as a selection of pastries and caffeinated desserts including espresso soft serve and condensed milk poured over coffee jelly.
5-17-13, Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0001
Dominique Ansel Bakery
Home of the cronut, but honestly who cares. An extension of its New York bakery, the Omotesando outlet is home to cute Japan-only exclusive desserts including the Maneki Neki Religieuse – choux filled with yuzu and vanilla custard in the form of a happy kitty. I tried taking a dedicated photo of this sweet guy later in the day but I found its head had toppled off once the coveted treat had been unboxed. This is what happens when you hoard desserts rather than enjoying them ASAP.
5-7-14 Jingumae, Shibuya, Tokyo 150-0001
Happy Pudding Mahakala
While shiba hunting in Nakameguro I saw four women in a quaint side street huddled together laughing and enjoying something from little jars with little spoons. Delayed curiosity spiked and 5 minutes later I backtracked to find Happy Pudding. It was the afternoon of my flight home and thankfully there was just enough change in my heaving-with-every-other-currency wallet for one luxurious Ureshii Purin, a pot of silky custard and bitter toffee. Top grade eggs are sourced from Hyogo Prefecture resulting in vibrant, luscious puddings from the eggs’ bright orange yolks. It’s a hole-in-the-wall space and you’re encouraged to take a seat on the few benches outside. It’s bloody pleasant as.
1-17-5 Aobadai, Meguro-ku, Tokyo
Enormous, cakey donuts with a little hand-made panda head donut nestled inside. The store is located conveniently in Ueno JR station making these puffy donuts easy to collect and savour upon either arrival or departure of Tokyo. Too adorable to eat, too enticing not to eat. The Hokkaido milk and salted caramel flavours are excellent.
JR Ueno Station 3F, 7-1-1 Ueno, Taito-ku, Tokyo
A ramen chain, yes, but absolutely worth visiting – their broths are chicken bone based yet, despite the absence of all that pork collagen, remain creamy, thick and gravy like. If noodles aren’t your jam (get out), order a plate of gyoza and relish in the symphonic experience of 10 businessmen slurping around you. Recommended by my buddy Raff.
1F, 3-20-4 Nishiwaseda, Shinjuku, Tokyo 169-0051
Floresta Nature Doughnuts
How strong is Japan’s cute donut game? Floresta Nature Doughnuts are organic and made using locally sourced ingredients – they even taste healthy and err on the not-so-sweet side. Best of all their decorative range are dressed in a variety of animals, but get in quick before they sell out. Next time that chicken donut will be mine.
1-56-18 Sasazuka, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 151-0073
In a world where burgers are exalted and where Facebook groups are created to rate, review, praise and destroy the humble sandwich and the vendors from which they are grilled, the stakes in the burger industry have never been higher, or more dangerous.
Within this terrible scenario, Authentic Burger has absolutely nothing to worry about. I ordered the peach burger (damn I love fruit in meat dishes, tagines and whatnot) – beef with cheese, tomato, lettuce and thinly sliced peach. Delicious. The beers are crafty, the chips crispy and the owners friendly – upon further research he apparently only closes shop for new year and the Fuji Rock Festival. This burger joint also sports the greatest informative illustration of our generation: keep an eye out for the crab’s instructions concerning the correct method of holding an Authentic Burger on the menu. You’ll understand when you see it.
2-18-19, Minato, Tokyo 107-0052
The alluring scent of grilled chicken had me drifting down the street à la an 80s-cartoon-character-to-window-sill-pie. Toritake is smoky, bustling, loud and conveniently located by Shibuya station. You have the option of either ordering takeaway via a small window, or inviting numerous friends inside to drink all of the beer, eat all of the grilled chicken bits with a side of eggplant and leek (with your choice of either tare/soy or shio/salt). Settle in and ride the bird.
1-6-1 Dogenzaka, Shibuya, Tokyo 150-0043
Uchimura Egyptian Deli Shop
Two years ago my travelling partner Steve discovered Uchimura Deli and upon his return home insisted he take me one day. “Wouldn’t it be nice to make a magazine of all these unexpected little places people discover when they go on holiday?”, I waffled optimistically, and here I am, face-to-face with InDesign. The idea of an Egyptian restaurant located in the middle of Tokyo is what propelled me to produce this entire book without having even visited yet.
Uchimura is owned by a married couple, one Japanese and one Egyptian. They’ve spent time living in Egypt and wanted to open a small takeaway shop to repurpose the family butcher. It evolved into the small restaurant it is today offering some very typical dishes: bamya, ful medames and of course legitimate falafel. The chef and owner seemed nervous when I dropped my heritage but there was no need: the food is fantastic and was prepared with all the flavour and care that makes an excellent home-cooked Arabic meal. For one of the better lunches in Tokyo this might just be one of the cheapest too. Thank you Uchimura for the inspiration.
3-2-11 Kitazawa Setagayaku, Tokyo 155-0031
The above, plus more, is an excerpt from Holiday Notes: Notes From a Holiday.