Unexpectedly in Asia Part 5: Tokyo…it’s finally growing on me…

I left Seoul’s Gimpo airport (thank goodness not another hike to Incheon) extremely early in the morning, trying to beat the rush out of town for the Lunar New Year. Thank goodness I was also flying into Haneda in Tokyo, so I could get into the centre of Tokyo in minutes (instead of that monstrosity Narita so far out of town). It’s like doing Reagan National to LaGuardia instead of Dulles to JFK…

I arrived with some trepidation in Tokyo, as my previous trip I did not enjoy Tokyo at all. There was a barrier, and I felt like a lost outsider. I was “let in” while in Seoul, but not in Tokyo. Would 9 years change that? I pondered that as I jockeyed for space in the Tokyo Monorail headed towards the centre.

It was a sunny and nice morning, so I walked (dragging my bag) to my hotel, which was about 15 minutes away near Shimbashi Station. Not much of an issue, but once again the Asia mantra of “you see it but you can’t get there” proved true, this time hampered also by major roadworks. After a few ramps, I finally found my hotel.

I would recommend the Park Hotel Tokyo very much. Great staff, especially the concierge who sorted out some of my dinner bookings. Convenient location, spartan but good room, and 2 Michelin-starred restaurants in premises and more within a 5-minute radius. I didn’t experience much in the hotel as I had plans, but they looked good. Only drawback was the huge amount of cigarette smoke that permeated the lobby cafe from the excellent (but nauseatingly smoky) whisky bar.

I took some time the first day to solidify my plans and just get acquainted with travelling in Tokyo…last time here was a nightmare for me, and I didn’t want to deal with that. Thank goodness the Suica (the local Oyster Card equivalent) was easy to acquire at Haneda, tho I put too much money on it… Made travelling so, so much easier than to buy a bloody ticket… And machine was in passabe English (learn from that, Seoul…).

I was hungry when I headed out to my dinner that first night at Steakhouse Satou (as in this earlier review). Though the journey was long and a bit of a headache to navigate within stations (with scaffolding and overhangs that covered signs), I felt better about the Tokyo public transport system than I ever did. And suddenly, I felt so much freer than 9 years ago…

As I was quite jetlagged and still revelling in the amazing beef from Satou I took an early night. The next morning I got up and went for a long walk around Tsukiji Fish Market. The famous place hasn’t changed much since my last visit 9 years ago, but way more tourists. There were too many queues this morning for things interested, and I didn’t need to spend a wallet-full to bring home an ultra-sharp sushi knife, so I headed out after an hour or so.

I wandered around in Ginza for a bit until I found my lunch destination, Chikuyotei. I love eel, and this was one of the best places for it in Tokyo (it used to have a Michelin, but now gone, thank goodness). I ordered the main lunch una-don special (large) but also had a quick snack at first of squid in urchin sauce…I love this dish.


The main lunch was pretty voluminous, first with some eel liver soup (didn’t do much for me), and the large una-don. As often commented, the sauce used is very mild here, which garners complaints from some “destination diners” from North America who love the dish for the sauce and not the eel. Here you taste the eel, thank goodness. Fabulous piece of eel, way too much rice. Once again my poor handling of chopsticks to eat rice catches up with me here…

After a long stroll in Ginza, working off the eel (and rice), I headed back and promptly fell asleep for 2 hours…this 14-hour time change is killing me. I wanted to eat more but my body was just not letting me… I got up and that evening I headed to my amazing omakase at Sushi Bar Yasuda. What a meal…

Now after that meal I ended up back at my hotel and attempted to enjoy some craft Japanese whisky at the hotel’s well-regarded bar (connected to Tateru Yoshino Bis*). Plus, it was Japan’s first Scotch Malt Whisky Society location, I was really looking forward to it. But as I hinted before, the cigarette smoke was just so overwhelming I had to sit outside before quitting after 1 drink…this is ridiculous. I was coughing up a lung…no way to enjoy that, no matter how good the malt was…

I was a little shocked. Even in Macau they have all but banned indoor smoking (despite how much the rules are disobeyed). Or the hotel needs to get a better ventilation system… But it was a turnoff for me despite the wonderful selection…too bad… So I ventured out, already tipsy from rioja, sake and whisky…

I found this little place near the hotel and downed a few beers…was a little groggy so don’t remember much of it. I know I drank a few beers and enjoyed a few skewers of various parts of chicken… I stumbled back to my hotel and collapsed…

Despite all the drink I wasn’t too hungover after the bad sleep…jetlag trumps hangover it seems… I was knackered when I got up and headed out again. A little lazy today, and decided to stay in Ginza once more. Yesterday was eel, today was tempura, and I headed to one of the best regarded tempura restaurants in Tokyo, Ten-Ichi.

This is the flagship location of this popular institution, and I was given a seat (and a bib) at the counter so I could watch the chef prepare the food. I went for a tasting, and it went pretty interestingly…


The first course was the shrimp, 2 pieces (sorry, overzealous, ate 1 before remembering to take a picture) including fried legs. Shrimp not big but tasty, and the batter was fantastic, fried to perfection. As everyone says, you eat tempura in Japan you’ll never be able to eat it outside again…and they are right. Wow, what a difference. It was followed a thick slice of lotus root.


Next feature was the whitefish, which was also quite tasty, fried to perfection to leave moist and burning hot flesh inside. It was followed by a rather lonely asparagus.


Then we got a humble piece of squid, which was a little lacking to be honest, later followed by another lonely pepper. The texture was nice fried, but the squid portion was disappointing.


After that was my favourite, anago tempura, which was excellent. I love eel, and eel tempura was just a treat I still find hard to get in the US. And a very generous portion! This was followed by a cute baby eggplant at first, then a strange ball afterwards…turned out it was a ball of baby shrimp! Tasty!

This was a rather expensive lunch, frankly, but good. It’s one of those “try it once” things as tempura is not that high up my priority list when it comes to Japanese cuisine. Nice, especially the anago. A good lunch. I walked around the north and west part of Ginza, dodging shoppers this weekend afternoon.

Then I made my way back to my hotel, and promptly collapsed for an hour or so (my body is telling me it’s 4am back home and I should be sleeping). I got back up and took my time to get to Sushi Kanesaka for another amazing omakase dinner (as reviewed here). But after the meal I walked back to the hotel, but wanted a little more…

I remembered the place I was the night before and went back, this time with a clearer head. It turns out it is not just a bar, but also a well-regarded place to enjoy free-range Jidori chicken. This place is named Hinaiya, and it specialises in the more exclusive chickens from Hinai. So it wasn’t just some yakitori…

I wish I had more time to eat here, but this was just a night for beer and snacking. I had a few different ones, from asparagus to meatballs, but really loved the chicken. The first drunken night I focused on the gizzards and chicken skin skewers…


These were delicious, and these were from the second night enjoying much more of them. Downed many beers and a few more servings of these delicious skewers, I was happy walking back to the hotel.

The next day I checked out, but my body was really rebelling after sleeping for only 2 hours…it just wouldn’t fall asleep again after I got up at 4am or so… I just laid there like a zombie… I had decided to get a hotel near the far-flung Narita Airport as my flight the next day was early morning and didn’t want that headache.

I was gonna wander around for a bit, but my body was just not co-operating…it was my last full day in Asia, but my body wanted to go home…too long this trip… So I headed to Shimbashi Station to get to Tokyo Station for an airport train, but lo and behold I saw a local service (slow) to Narita Airport from Shimbashi. So I upgraded to a first class for a few hundred yen, and took the slow nearly 2-hour service to Narita Airport. Was a nice way to see the suburbs…

Hopped onto a hotel shuttle and tried to relax at the airport hotel. Eventually I headed to the bar, which was a little lacking. Ended up going to the Japanese restaurant at the hotel, Matsuzake, which specialised in shabu-shabu. And it was all you can eat, so…

I enjoyed some more sake and the meal started with various things, including this cute starter selection of pickled clams, tofu with cod roe, and glazed sardine.


But the main focus was the beef for the shabu-shabu, which wasn’t bad at all, even for all-you-can-eat. I ended up having about 4 or 5 of these plates…


Perhaps a little anti-climactic of a meal to end my Asia trip, but it was definitely necessary a climbdown from the amazing foods I’ve had all trip. It was simple and tasty, and a lot of veg — which again I need and want.

I headed to the bar for a last drink, conversed in Russian with some patrons, and headed up hoping for a good night sleep before the 12-hour flight to London in the morning. My body had quit on me, which was too bad. I wish I had more energy to eat in Tokyo (and Seoul). I need to make it a focus next time I come to Asia. And yes, after this trip, I will not wait 9 years ago to come back. Food is just too good.

PS: I got back to Washington after a 36-hour break in London (that means another 8 hour flight). Knackered, jetlagged, and bewildered that I somehow lost half a stone while on an eating trip in Asia…

Chikuyotei [竹葉亭]
5-8-3, Ginza, Chuo-ku

Ten-Ichi [天一]
6-6-5 Ginza, Chuo-ku

Hinaiya [比内や]
8-8-5, Ginza, Chuo-ku
Tokyo, Japan

Matsuzake [松風]
Hilton Nagoya Airport
456 Kosuge
Nagoya, Japan


3 thoughts on “Unexpectedly in Asia Part 5: Tokyo…it’s finally growing on me…

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