Japan is a shoo-in for your must-visit list if you consider yourself a true food fan. The country has an incredible range of food offerings, and it takes an expert guide to know which are the best places to head to for the most amazing food. Fortunately, we have one, and it’s Daniel Calvert, Chef Patron of SÉZANNE, who’s kindly compiled an expert guide for us.
The gastronomic landscape of Japan is extraordinary. There is an incredible array of high-quality dining and drinking experiences, from under the radar eateries frequented by local residents to renowned restaurants that have garnered global recognition.
I love the fact that Japanese culinary traditions put ingredients centre stage. Great ingredients have always been a big draw for me. I love tasting fresh produce grown right next door or nearby. It has been a guiding principle during my culinary explorations around the country.
Let’s start in the northwest city of Kanazawa, located in the Ishikawa prefecture. This region is very well known for its abundance of seafood, shellfish and other marine products. Here, plenty of restaurants dedicate themselves to using locally grown and harvested ingredients.
One of my top choices is Sushi Mekumi. It is a traditional counter style sushi restaurant, but what sets it apart is that Chef Yamaguchi sources all his ingredients from Ishikawa. That means no tuna on the menu! What you get, instead, is a much more localised sushi experience.
Then there is Kataori, which in my book, is one of the best Kaiseki restaurants in all of Japan. Chef Takuya Kataori-san uses only Japanese ingredients, highlighting the best of what Ishikawa has to offer, thus creating a locally rooted Kaiseki experience. It’s extremely hard to get a seat here, so I would recommend booking well in advance. The menu changes frequently based on the availability of seasonal produce.
Now moving southeast to Wakayama, just past Osaka, we come to Villa AiDA. This is a small Italian restaurant run by Chef Kanji Kobayashi and his wife Yumi. They grow many of their own vegetables and herbs, with the surrounding fields providing nearly 90 per cent of the produce used in the kitchen – a thoroughly farm-to-table approach.
Interestingly, the farm also grows a variety of European ingredients that are not so easy to find in Japan, so the menu feels very authentic and very Italian. The dining experience itself is warm and intimate, with the restaurant seating only 6-8 guests at a time. It’s almost like a private dinner, especially if you book the entire venue for your party.
Now coming to Tokyo, my all time favourite French restaurant in the city is ESqUISSE, which is located in Ginza. Lionel Beccat is the chef here, and he does a truly exemplary job. Many chefs have tried to combine French recipes and techniques with Japanese produce, with varying degrees of success. Lionel is someone who has really managed to pull it off; the result feels effortless.
Another place I love to go to is Sazenka in the Minami-Azabu district. Chef Tomoya Kawada serves Chinese fare with a Japanese sensibility. The dishes are unique with the elegance and refinement of Japanese cuisine, without losing out on Chinese recipes’ authentic character and flavour. Chef Kawada worked at a Kaiseki restaurant before this, and you can definitely see reflections of his training in the dining experience.
I don’t visit bars very often. I like to go to SG Club in Shibuya, which Shingo Gokan runs when I do. Coincidentally, Shingo and I worked in New York at the same time, but I didn’t know him back then. SG Club is a very atmospheric cocktail bar. It has a very Lower East Side style, almost a speakeasy vibe – it reminds me a lot of New York. Plus, the cocktails are excellent.
Last on my list, but certainly not least, is Kama-asa, a kitchen store in Kappabashi. There are lots of kitchen stores in Japan, of course. In my opinion, this is one of the best, with a great selection of top quality knives, small tools and Japanese barbeques. Sometimes I go here just to be inspired and to get new ideas about what I can do. For us professional cooks, kitchen stores are places full of possibilities!
Daniel with some of his colleagues.
For more information on Daniel Calvert and SÉZANNE, please visit www.sezanne.tokyo.
Read more dining guides, reviews and features here.