While the quality of food is always the primary reason why we choose to visit a restaurant, the interior can also make or break our dining experience, don’t you agree? Japanese aesthetic has really become very close to my heart: modern clean shapes, layers of textures, monotone colors, the use of concrete, wood and iron, and traditional decor elements that tastefully accent and add an understated oomph to the minimalist interior – all of this creates refined and somewhat zen ambiance that almost makes you feel compelled to enjoy your meal slowly and linger just a bit longer.
I always gravitated towards spaces that are characterized by sophisticated simplicity and have particularly enjoyed interiors created by Shinichiro Ogata, the creative director behind Yakumo Saryo, Baishinka, and design company Simplicity. I fell in love with each of these spaces the moment I stepped inside and consider them to be part of my special collection. Recently, I was able to add one more place to my collection: Higashi-Yama Tokyo, a restaurant specializing in washoku cuisine.
Tucked away in the unassuming street of Meguro, Higashi-Yama looks like a private club that grants access to VIPs. Personal taste accounted for, everything about it was beautiful to me. I loved how the natural light flooded from the floor-to-ceiling windown and blanketed the interior of what looked like a former warehouse. Rusty metal panes, lots of wood paired with concrete, rough linen upholstery on the chairs, dark grey kitchen, and pristine white walls – these are the elements that greet you the moment you step inside the restaurant.
That’s not to say that the surroundings here outshine the food. Thankfully, Higashi-Yama is a restaurant where the food is prepared with as much creativity as the exceptional setting. The menu features modern interpretation of washoku cuisine: carefully curated freshest seasonal ingredients cooked to perfection, with balanced flavors and beautiful presentation. After enjoying my complimentary glass of sake, I ordered one of the lunch sets during my visit and opted to upgrade to wagyu beef for my main course.
There was a lot (in fact everything) that would make me want to go back here for an extensive dinner. Appetizers presented in the eye-catchy designer bento box was an impressive starter. Delicious morsels featured vegetables (leek with matcha miso sauce was my absolute favorite), tofu as rich as the cottage cheese, sashimi and the most scrumptious pork belly that just melted in my mouth leaving a sweet and savory aftertaste. It was paired with a yam puree which cut through the richness of the pork and gave a smooth finish to the bite.
The seasonal course, which in my case was wagyu steak, had everything I look forward to (and will dearly miss) in a Japanese beef: smokey flavor and buttery richness that sets fireworks in your palate. It was accompanied with yuzikoshi and wasabi condiments, and a fresh salad with very nice tangy dressing, as well as traditional accompaniments like a bowl of rice, pickles and miso soup (which seems to work like a neat housekeeper putting everything into proper shelves after a delicious meal). I finished off with a matcha blancmange which was light, not too sweet yet rich in that delightful matcha flavor.
Considering the quality of ingredients, the price was quite reasonable. During lunch the prices range from￥1,500 to ￥3,500, while dinner time will cost you ￥4,500 to ￥8,200 (for eleven-course tasting menu). In terms of reservations, booking in advance is necessary. The good news is that you can book either online or via phone, and they do speak English. If you see that the place is booked out online, give them a call instead. The restaurant also houses a secluded bar on the basement floor, which could be a perfect place for after-dinner drinks.
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