I’ve been to Tokyo 5 times and this recent 11-day trip is my best one yet, mostly because I ate VERY well hahaha. We made it to 3 different Michelin-starred restaurants, a themed cafe and even Park Hyatt Tokyo hotel, where ‘Lost In Translation’ was filmed. I’ll do reviews on all of them (slowly lah) but let’s start with our very first restaurant meal when we landed, at Nakajima.
To be honest, you can’t really get a bad meal in Japan because almost everything we’ve ever tried is yummy, even when we walked into any random udon shop.
But my tum-tum was certainly much happier when I put in a bit of research and sought out the good stuff.
Plan, Plan, Plan
Like everyone else, I googled ‘Michelin Star Tokyo’ before my trip and dove deep into endless loops of food porn articles and YouTube videos. Daniel Food Diary is the best, and I’m not just saying it ‘cos Daniel is a friend. He gives clear directions, writes fair reviews and there’s so much text and pretty visuals to drool over (mine are all snapped with my iPhone cos I can’t wait to eat). Start there, you won’t be disappointed.
I knew I wanted to stay in Shinjuku area so I am near good food, shopping and easy transportation connection to the rest of Tokyo. Also, I chose my hotel, Hundred Stay Shinjuku, partly cos it’s near Koreantown and I wanted some international flavors near my home base. Plus, there’s a 24-hour Ichiran Ramen at Shinjuku, which I was sure I’d visit at least once for supper. Sadly, we never made it there 😭
So, my Tip #1 is this: Pick a hotel/air bnb in a location where there’s stuff you know you already want to do or eat, so you can walk around to explore. Saves you some travelling cost.
Tip #2: Plan your food schedule for the die-die-must-try places and don’t leave it to chance. Unless you are willing to shell out $$ for paid concierge services to make your reservations (and not all restaurants take reservations anyways), be prepared to queue. Have a back-up plan Eg preferably another well rated restaurant in the neighbourhood.
For example, we planned to dine at Tsuta, Tokyo’s first Michelin-starred ramen. But their queuing system starts at 730am (!?!!) and I wasn’t sure if we could get a place.
My back-up plan was Nakiryu Ramen, another affordable Michelin-starred noodle joint which was in the same ‘hood as Tsuta. We made it to Tsuta; will write a review soon.
Tip #3: If you have young kids with you who WILL be impatient, negotiate terms with them first. My Ayden was certainly very displeased with all that queueing he had to endure. Son, you are eating GOOD FOOD! Show some appreciation!
Space out your treats. I deliberately scheduled a trip to Pokémon Center + dinner at Pokémon Cafe a few days into our trip, so I could dangle that as a treat/bribe. The other highlight, Gundam Base, was scheduled towards the end of the trip, so I had a second bribe. Even then, we had plenty of arguments (and some tears 😭), and I had to brandish my last trick up my sleeve — an extra visit to Pokémon Center.
Tip #4: Plan but don’t over-plan
Leave some stomach space for serendipity! Some of our best meals were at places we stumbled upon and not those Instagrammed to death. Will post my reviews and pics on those in due course.
Okay! Let’s get down to Nakajima!
Shinjyuku Kappou NAKAJIMA
We spent: ¥800-¥900 (plus tax) each. Really!
Our very first proper meal in Tokyo started with a bang at their cheapest (if not, one of their cheapest) Michelin-starred restaurants.
Specializing in sardines for their lunch specials, there are 4 mains to choose from, at the super affordable prices of just ¥800 or ¥900 per set — but you gotta brave the queue. We were lucky it took us just 25min, because we went at 1130am on a weekday.
The sign isn’t very obvious so look out for this brown building, where the 2 gentlemen are standing. Go down the flight of stairs to enter the restaurant at B1. Actually, the queue will probably start on ground floor, so just look for a line of hungry people.
Their menu. They offer their signature sardines in four styles.
And… the queue begins. About 1/3 of the queue was made up of foreigners. And yes, they have an English menu so don’t worry.
Do note that kids under 6 years old are not allowed. This poor mum and daughter, who waited for dunno how long, had to drop out of the queue.
We finally see the actual shop!
Must take photo.
We started off with some pickles, including 2 slices of chunky, crunchy daikon.
Like all the Japanese restaurants we visited, green tea 🍵 is provided free.
We ordered 3 out of their 4 sets; skipped the fried sardine set cos it sounded the least exciting of the lot. All sets came with a bowl of rice and miso soup.
This Yanagawa Nabe (¥900) came bubbling hot in a casserole. Generous portions of fried sardine, luxuriating in a saucy egg bath. What’s not to like? Precisely because of that, this dish also isn’t particularly memorable to me.
The Sardine Sashimi set (¥800）is our unanimous favourite! So fresh and flavorful, dressed with sesame and eaten dipped in soy sauce with ground ginger. The portion looks small compared to the Yanagawa Nabe, but it’s plenty enough for one. We savoured every sliver.
This is our 2nd favourite:
Braised in an addictive sweetish soy gravy, this set (¥800）looks simple but is very comforting.
A visual comparison of all 3 mains.
Tired from our overnight flight but v happy with our meal. This pic is taken by our new friend, a smiley Japanese salaryman who has visited Singapore 3 times. By the way, expect to share tables with strangers. Seats are quite squished like most Japanese restaurants.
Next round, we’d ask for a seat at their counter and watch their chefs at work.
Verdict: 4/5 stars. Very good stuff for the price. This one is a no-brainer, definitely add it to your Tokyo must-eat list.
Tokyo Part 2: Combini culture — Eat all the onigiri, oden and… everything!