The secret list of the best restaurants in Tokyo

Christine Cunanan Travelife Magazine The Frequent Flier

So over the summer in Tokyo, living a Travelife, a friend took me to a restaurant without signs or a proper entrance. It’s included in the secret list of Tokyo’s best restaurants, compiled by Japanese gourmet who don’t agree with the Michelin Guide or who don’t want their favorite restaurants filled with foreigners reading guidebooks.


In a way, it”s quite understandable. Once a restaurant becomes famous, it also becomes almost impossible to book. Oftentimes, the prices rise as well. Soon, the locals are edged out of their own favourite restaurants.

Anyhow, those in the know consider this particular nondescript restaurant to be the best restaurant for a kaiseki meal in Tokyo right now. They don’t serve strangers so you must get your reservation via a regular.


And even if the cost of a meal here is about the same as a flight ticket from Asia to Paris, for example, the restaurant doesn’t accept credit cards. So imagine the kind of cash you have to bring to eat here, especially if you are treating one or two friends to dinner.


Consider this an advanced birthday treat,” my friend said. I haven’t quite begun thinking of birthday celebrations yet. But if you must know, instead of doing the usual dinners in Tokyo and Manila, I thought I’d go to Tibet this year to take a course on Tibetan singing bowl therapies. Just an idea. And I also have a time constraint, as I must be in Macao for business soon after.


Well, even if it was way in advance, this dinner did really a birthday treat, as well. I didn’t see the bill, but I have a feeling we could have flown to Europe for the weekend on the price of that very exclusive meal.

This restaurant is not on any of the international foodie lists. So it’s really just on this secret list of the best restaurants in Tokyo. In fact, it’s so under the radar that I’d never even heard of it before. However, one day, this friend, who is one of the biggest big-time foodies in Japan, finally took me. This is when I immediately understood what the fuss was all about.


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Actually, there is no fuss, except if you know of it and want to get in. First, it doesn’t have a sign. Those who are on the secret list of the best restaurants in Tokyo definitely want to remain there, so they avoid fanfare.

It has a very small logo somewhere in its very unobtrusive entrance. So someone who doesn’t have any idea of what he or she is looking for will miss it by a mile. And this is exactly what the owner/ chef wants.

Basically, his philosophy is: if you don’t know about this place, you don’t need to be here.

Just a handful of serious foodies keep him in business and he’s perfectly happy with this. He hates publicity so I actually had to leave my phones in my coat pocket at the entrance.

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Second, the restaurants on this secret list of the best restaurants in Tokyo are all like little clubs.

Everyone knows everyone and everyone’s in business with each other because Tokyo is a actually a very small world within a very big city.

Being the outsider and a semi-foreigner in Japan, I actually didn’t know anyone when we walked in, although I knew of some of them. It’s a small place so you can scout out the territory in one glance.

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Third, most are regulars who keep the chef in business so he doesn’t need new customers. 

In fact, when we walked in, the chef was at the counter and he didn’t even look up from slicing some sashimi to greet us. That’s how much regulars regard this place as their “kitchen.”


Then, still without looking up, the chef said to my friend: “So, did you get it?

My friend didn’t miss a beat. He replied: “Nope. I just realised I don’t even have time to use the others.”

Of course I had no idea what they were discussing as it was probably part two, part three or part four of an ongoing conversation between them.

But later I found out that my friend had been thinking of ordering a custom-made Aston Martin to complement his garage of equally expensive toys, and this was what the conversation was about.


A little later, one of Japan’s richest men walks in. 

Aha. Finally I knew someone personally. And it’s interesting how I could instantly feel my stock rise in the eyes of the chef.

This latest guest, a very learned and courteous old gentleman, was once at the top of Japan’s rich list for something like 10 years, until the IT guys started to muscle their way into the list.

He’s still in the top 10, I think. But if you’ve been # 1 for a long time, I don’t think it’s a nice feeling to suddenly go down a couple of notches.


And now one of the top IT guys on the list — #3 or #4 perhaps — is my neighbour and I once could see his living room from mine. He bought the app Viber sometime back as a hobby, I think, and he’s eclipsed my old friend in terms of wealth.

Anyway, I know this guy who walked in because we share a fence with him in a summer holiday area of Japan where lots of people from Tokyo have weekend houses.

It’s not as posh as Karuizawa, for instance, which is where the Emperor and Empress met each other while playing tennis. Karuizawa is ground zero for the very social in the summer here in Tokyo.

It’s the kind of place where you have to wear casual designer wear just to go to the supermarket to buy stuff for breakfast, lest you feel out of place.


Our area, which is thankfully much nearer Tokyo than Karuizawa, is much more relaxed but it has a very nice community that includes this gentleman.

He said to me: “I haven’t seen you for awhile.”

Yes, I haven’t been to my summer house in a very long time, since I’ve been busy with a Travelife. But many years back, he and his wife would just knock on my door on summer weekends when they knew I was around and drop off organic vegetables from the garden of their summer house.

They have a pretty amazing house with a sauna that has a perfect view of Mount Fuji.


Anyway, we all had fun last Thursday night, in Tokyo, living a Travelife.

And the 12-course kaiseki dinner that was served was truly mind-blowing in taste and refinement. It was not overly dramatic way the way many of the three-star Michelin kaiseki places make such a production of a meal, so that you can’t decide whether you’re at a restaurant or at an art exhibit. But it was spectacular.

(Mind you. I happen to like the art exhibit-type of presentation too. But last Thursday’s meal was not that way, but simply beautiful too.)

This was one of the many courses at lunch last Wednesday
at a Michelin two-star Japanese restaurant

This was truly one of the best Japanese meals I’ve had, in my never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife, full of good food and meals at some of the best restaurants in the world.

And what a pity I can’t write about this place lest I get blacklisted from this group and I never get to eat here again. So, unfortunately, no details and no photos.

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