Our reservation at Jimbocho Den was the hardest to secure being one of the hottest new restaurants in Tokyo, it seemed. Initially I was turned down when I booked 3 months ahead of time, the restaurant citing they were full, despite my plea that I wanted to celebrate Y’s birthday there. What a pity, as we were keen to try Chef Zaiyu Hasegawa’s fun creations we had read so much on various blogs. Lo and behold, Noriko, the restaurant manager contacted us a week before our trip to Tokyo and said that she had a table available on the 25th September, just a day after Y’s birthday! That really made our day!
We were advised by Noriko to look out for a 7 Eleven along the main road and the restaurant was located in a small alley. In true Jimbocho fashion, our arrival experience started at the beginning with a very nondescript entrance, there was no traditional signage except for their tiny namecard with the character – 傳 stuck on a wall with low light. We figured this must be the place.
Remember to walk down this alley!
LOL! Can the ‘signage’ get any smaller?
2 ‘lovebirds’ one of the signature branding of Jimbocho Den
We were greeted by Noriko, and was asked to wait at the entrance for our table. While sitting around, we noticed there were a lot of interesting pottery shown and guessed that maybe some might be used during our upcoming dinner. The restaurant spans over 2 floors with the upstairs area being able to contain larger groups while the lower floor was mainly counter seating, which is the best place to be in, as one can see and interact with Chef Zaiyu. After being seated, we were given cute Japanese cloth napkins – blue for boy and pink for female. I noticed how the kitchen was so efficiently planned and all the elaborate cuisine seemed to be prepared out of this tiny counter kitchen, very impressive indeed.
Clean and efficient kitchen layout and counter.
Japanese napkins for us.
The food at Jimbocho Den can be described as creative ‘kaiseki’, with his own touches of playfulness, wit and humour in his creations using seasonal ingredients.
Our first dish was “monaka” or a traditional Japanese wafer biscuit, in a Jimbocho branded wrapper. Noriko said this was Chef Zaiyu’s interpretation of a typical Monaka that has different stuffings the most popular usually with red bean. Once we opened the wrapper and split it in half, we realised it was foie gras with Japanese miso, chestnuts and pickled cucumbers – it was a perfect balance of sweet and salty. I don’t typically like chestnuts but it worked beautifully in this combination.
What’s this? A Japanese cracker?
We also opted for a sake pairing options with every course, recommended by Noriko, the first (see below) was a sake made in spring to be drunk in autumn. It went perfectly with the next course we had. Even the mineral water looked rather special, being a spring water from a sake brewery in Niigata. I loved the fun glassware that it was served in, compliments of an artist from Hokkaido that made the quirky glassware.
Spring mineral water from Niigata.
For our second course to complement the first sake we ordered, we were served a deep fried eel (called anago) with eggplant and wrapped by okra flowers and served with okra and dashi sauce. Again, I have never liked lady’s fingers (okra) much, but the Japanese ones are much lovelier, and not as slimy.
I loved some of the plates used during our omakase course., such as the cute one below with the lovebirds, would have wished to take this back if I could. Even the sake cups are so interesting in shape. Chef Zaiyu gave us information of some of the local artists who had shows and were displaying some of their wares, a pity we did not have time to look at their pieces.
The third course, probably one of the most photographed iconic dish of Jimbocho Den. Titled ‘DFC’ – it’s Chef Zaiyu’s take on KFC’s chicken, but DFC for DEN Fried Chicken. It came complete in his own packaged box with his face on it. Of course, I had to take a photo of him presenting us to it, it was a picture perfect moment. He asked us to open it, and wow there was a surprise in Y’s box. There sitting in the box was a handwritten “Happy Birthday” message and a cute rubber duckie sitting beneath it amidst the ‘hay’ decoration. After taking everything out, lay a simple fried chicken stuffed with beans and chicken meat. Noriko explained to us that this is reminiscent of a Brazilian dish, a country he likes to draw influences from. A pity, I forgot to take a picture of the back of the box, as it listed all his favourites restaurants. Shucks!
DFC – Jimbocho’s signature fried chicken!
Our fourth course was a seabass with plum sauce and shisho flower. Quite light and delicate, but my favourite dish was the next one.
One of the best fish dishes I have had was this fifth course – Sanma otherwise known as Japanese mackeral, served with liver sauce and miso, and ginkgo, soba nuts and green onion, served in magnolia ‘hoba’ leave. The mackeral was so aromatic and tasty, I could have had another serving of this easily.
The 6th course, was their signature salad dish, which they like to call their ‘farm’. Composing of around 20 different type of vegetables from a friend’s farm, the salad was seasoned lightly so that we can enjoy the fresh greens. The ingredients included radish, beetroot, burdock, young pumpkin. Again Chef Zaiyu’s humour can be seen here with a funny smily face cut out of a carrot slice. The radish was the highlight coated with hojicha. This was fragrant without being too intrusive or heavy in taste. Well, this was still probably my least favourite dish, as salad reminds me too much of my ‘eat healthy’ days, and didn’t really see this as something I would want to eat in a degustation course.
The last course was the lovely Ikura or Salmon roe on rice served with pickled vegetables and miso soup. September to December is the best time to enjoy Ikura at its finest. The soup served was made from dashi, pike conger (called hamo) and Matsutake mashrooms – another favourite mushroom of mine only available in Autumn!
While waiting for our next course, we had some time to chat with Chef Zaiyu with Noriko helping to translate, as I always like to ask Chefs where do they draw their inspiration from. We learnt that Chef Zaiyu Hasegawa’s mum was a geisha and he grew up eating of course his mum’s home cooking. As an adult now, he loves to make his customers happy and seeing the surprised look on their faces with his creations.
As we were listening on, Noriko laid a newspaper cutting of the TV/Radio section and a dessert spoon each in front of us, which kind of puzzled us. We noticed some letters had been circled and they were ‘SEE YOU’. I think the surprised look on our faces must have been priceless, and I think this is what motivates and inspires Chef Zaiyu everyday in his job.
Erm, why are we given a TV guide as a placemat?
Noriko then served us what she called ‘Moss’ on a garden spade complete with ‘used garden gloves’. I loved the presentation and could see the humour and fun in this. Essentially Chef Zaiyu’s interpretation of a classic Tiramisu, in a deconstructed fashion made of cheese mousse, green and brown teas and charcoal.
The last course and our second dessert was what seemed at a quick glance to be a Starbucks Coffee cup. On a closer look, we saw their spoof of the Starbucks classic logo with a caricuture drawing of Chef Zaiyu in the centre instead with the words “Star Comebacks Den” and 2 aesterick symbols ** forming a circle. Noriko explained that Chef Zaiyu had previously had 2 Michelin Stars but lost one and he presently has 1 Michelin Star, and this was his humorous take on hoping that he will get back his other star one day. I liked how he does not seem affected by this and can poke fun at this. Resembling a cappucino, this super delicious ending is made of pudding and sugarcane, it took 8 hours to cook this to create a thick caramel and then black truffle was added at the end. It was like a rich caramelised hot chocolate. Yummy!
I thoroughly enjoyed my dining experience at Jimbocho Den. The fact that Chef Zaiyu Hasegawa opened this when he was only 29 years old, and gained a huge following and Michelin Stars and other notable reviews shortly after, is impressive, and well deserved. It was a joy watching and tasting all the dishes that were served to us. I liked how he chose to present the food in fun and creative ways, although there definitely was a high level of thought and complexity in the dishes. The unexpected twist in some dishes made me always look forward to the next dish. The whole meal was like one happy joy ride, one that I would love to revisit again in my next trip to Jimbocho Den.
Jimbocho Den 〒101-0051 2-2-32, Jimbocho, Kanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, Tel. 03-3222-3978 http://www.jimbochoden.com
Reservations a must, book months ahead. Restaurant prefers to liase directly with clients for bookings. Can email them for reservations at firstname.lastname@example.org
Meal cost 22,000 yen approximately per person including sake pairing.