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FAVORITE RESTAURANTS
Esaki

A newbie to the Tokyo Michelin guide (with three stars) is Esaki, a small and elegant establishment where chef Shintaro Esaki works magic with fresh and local ingredients in a modern, innovative style. We ventured there, to its fashionable Aoyama location for lunch, last autumn, and found it to be a great value. The six-course 5,250 yen set lunch menu included fresh and perfectly prepared seafood, but the real stars of the show were the vegetables. After all, what other restaurant proudly introduces the produce at the table? Midway through the meal, just as the hassun (appetizer platter) arrived, our server came to our table with a basket brimming with the fresh produce that went into our meal. It was a fascinating touch — one that even people who are not enamored of vegetables — would most likely enjoy.

Interior of Esaki restaurant, Tokyo
Above: The elegant, minimalist interior includes a ceramic frieze with a moif of rice plants. Below: a tabletop arrangement for fall, with sake from Nagano.
Early autumn tabletop display
Below: Risa with Chef-owner Shintaro Esaki.
Executive chef at Esaki restaurant

Address: hills aoyama b1f
3-39-9 Jingu-mae, shibuya-ku, tokyo

TEL: 03-3408-5056
website: www.aoyamaesaki.net

Tip: As with all restaurants that are listed in the Michelin guide, you must make a reservation well ahead of time. English is not spoken and the menu is in Japanese.

 

Sign for Esaki restaurant Fish
Sashimi at Esaki restaurant Vegetable somalier at Esaki

TOP, left to right, top to bottom; Esaki's sign, located on the garden level of a residential neighborhood in Aoyama; Sanma with sanma liver sauce, topping pears and flat clams in fig sauce; Shima aji sashimi; a vegetable sommalier introduces the vegetables in the menu. BELOW: The hassun platter, (a trio of appetizers) from left to right: muscat grapes with tofu sauce; Fried shimoshi cucumber and honey pumpkin in pine sauce; eggplant and Yamanashi beans with black soybean sauce.

Trio of vegetable appetizers, Esaki restaurant, Tokyo

This is because at Esaki, the vegetables are transformed into delectable treats, dressed up with fresh and innovative "cream" sauces made from entirely healthy Japanese ingredients, especially in the hassun platter, my favorite course. The rich, creamy sauce clinging to the slightly warm and peeled muscat grapes made a luxurious and wholly new taste sensation: the soft grapes almost had a texture akin to sashimi, and a restrained, tart sweetness that was transformed by the sesame-rich tofu sauce. And the black soybean sauce on the green beans and eggplant had a chocolate-like richness that elevated the humble but perfectly prepared vegetables.

Vegetables Miso soup with eggplant, Esaki
Rice with perilla, Esaki Dessert at Esaki

Top, left to right, top to bottom; Fried isaki served in sweet Hiroshima onion and sazae, tomato and eggplant stir fry; eggplant miso soup; tai meshi (sea bream cooked with rice); yubari melon and white wine jelly on top of milk pudding with 16 grains.

For many of the dishes, there was not one, but two or three sauces in perfect — if surprising — harmony that provided bursts of complementing flavors. And many of the ingredients were artisanal, like the miso from Yamanashi prefecture, with twice the rice koji (starter for fermentation) as regular miso which gave Esaki's miso soup a powerfully rich flavor with depth and character.

There is a nice selection of sake from small, regional brewers, and the amtosphere is quietly elegant. During lunch, light spills into the mostly white space, and we imagine it takes a romantic turn during dinner. Esaki is the perfect respite during a shopping excursion to the Aoyama area, as it is very close to the fashion center of Harajuku and the famous fashion street of Omotesando.

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