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Japan Times / Life - Entertain

No looking back in hunger: a wrap-up of Tokyo's restaurant scene in 2017

As the year draws to a close, all that's left to do is to slurp New Year's soba and give thanks for another bumper year of superlative dining.

The house is cleaned, the yard swept, the auspicious kadomatsu pine decorations in their place by the door. All that’s left to be done is to slurp the New Year’s toshikoshi soba noodles, to give thanks for another bumper year of superlative dining, and to wish all Japan Times readers good health and great eating in 2018!

New faces and happy returns

Of the scores of hot new restaurants that have illuminated Tokyo these past 12 months, two that burned the brightest actually arrived at the tail end of 2016. But there’s no reason why they — and their talented young chefs — should be overlooked just because they arrived a few days too early.

Satoshi Furuta’s decision to move to Ginza from his hometown of Gifu was bold. Launching Chiune just days before the last New Year’s break was even more audacious. But he’s established himself with aplomb. Still in his early 30s, his cuisine is remarkably assured, integrating French and Chinese influences with a home-grown Japanese aesthetic. Among the standout dishes: the barbecued wild boar from his home prefecture. Needless to say, places at his six-seat counter are at a premium. (Chiune: 1-22-12 Ginza, Chuo-ku; 03-6228-6928)

Across town, another chef who’s made his name this year is Michihiro Haruta, at Crony in Nishi-Azabu. His CV includes spells in some of Europe’s top Michelin-starred kitchens, including Ledoyen (Paris), Kadeau (Copenhagen) and Maaemo (Oslo), as well as at Quintessence (Tokyo). Within a year, he had a Michelin star of his own. Watch this space: Haruta looks set to go far. (Crony: 2-25-24 Nishi-Azabu, Minato-ku; 03-6712-5085; www.fft-crony.jp)

After 10 years, Jun Kurogi has moved away from the wonderful, atmospheric (but impractical) premises — a former geisha house in the seedy alleys of Yushima — where he made his name. But he wasn’t away for long. At Kurogi‘s new address close to Daimon, he now has a sleek, upmarket setting to match the outstanding quality of his multi-course Japanese feasts. (Kurogi: 1-7-10 Shibakoen, Minato-ku; 03-6452-9039; www.kurogi.co.jp)

One of this year’s most eagerly anticipated restaurants did not touch down until late November, but it was well worth waiting for. Kabi showcases the Japan-meets-Nordic cooking of chef Shohei Yasuda and the dessert creations of his wife, Kiriko Nakamura. As the name suggests — kabi being Japanese for “mold” — fermentation plays a major role in Yasuda’s kitchen, while Nakamura confirms that she is one of Japan’s finest young patissiers. (Kabi: 4-10-8 Meguro, Meguro-ku; 03-6451-2413; http://kabi.tokyo)

And finally, Shin Harakawa has made his long-awaited return to action. Over a year since he walked away from his much-loved restaurant Beard in Meguro — turning the keys over to the equally excellent Locale — his new project, The Blind Donkey, is a joint endeavor with Jerome Waag, formerly head chef at Chez Panisse in California. As expected, it’s great. More surprising is the location, among the salaryman drinking holes by Kanda Station. (The Blind Donkey: 3-17-4 Uchikanda, Chiyoda-ku; 050-3184-0529; www.theblinddonkey.jp)

The year’s top tie-ups

2017 was the year when collaborations became part of Japan’s mainstream gastronomic vocabulary. A growing number of Tokyo’s top chefs are opening up their kitchens for pop-ups and tie-ups — and also jetting around the world as part of the growing global exchange of culinary DNA.

So which were the one-off events of 2017? It’s a hard call. Was it the epic dinner at Jingumae Den, where Zaiyu Hasegawa hosted the larger-than-life Thai-based chef Gaggan Anand, whose restaurant has been voted top of the Asia’s 50 Best list for three straight years?

Or how about the superb six-hands event at Florilege between Hiroyasu Kawate and the Surhing twins, whose contemporary take on German cuisine is taking Bangkok by storm?

Then there was Leandro Carreira’s five-day residency at Bistro Rojiura in Shibuya, giving Tokyo a preview of the modern Portuguese dishes he’s now serving at Londrino, one of the most acclaimed openings of the year in the British capital.

But in terms of sheer pleasure and gastronomic accomplishment, it was hard to beat Dominique Crenn’s visit to Bulgari Il Ristorante in April. The combination — her vibrant San Francisco French cuisine with Luca Fantin’s innovative Italian dishes — encapsulated everything that is positive about these creative collaborations. Long may they continue.