The Ageing Gaijin – Tastes from Japan # 2

Itosho – Azabu Juban, Tokyo – a very different Christmas lunch


Christmas isn’t really a Japanese thing,  It’s a normal working day.

But the shops are full of Christmas promotions. Bizarrely young people have taken to having Christmas parties with mega boxes of Kentucky Fried Chicken. And a large variety of delcious Christmas cakes (though not our traditional one) are sold at bakeries and supermarkets.

We squeezed in a somewhat average turkey dinner with a group of ex-pats at the Intercontinental Hotel in Shinigawa. But the day was somewhat saved by the ageing gaijin winning a meal for two in the Christmas charity raffle. Ah… wait for it – an Italian restaurant in Ginza.

No doubt we will enjoy that in due course, but our preference is to find the special Japanese places while we are here. And for our own Christmas celebration lunch we certainly succeeded in that.

Kasumi unearthed an absolute gem in Itosho, which was even smaller than the tonkatsu restaurant of my previous post. This time – no queues, you had to book (well in advance) as it can cater for only about 12 covers. It is divided into three small rooms by paper partitions and the floors are tatami mats. Fortunately for me, they recognise a feeble gaijin’s inability to sit cross-legged on the floor for more than a few minutes and provided low chairs.

The food was the antithesis of traditional Christmas food. Eight courses – each consisting of several small plates. All vegetarian and all based on Shojin Ryori (food for monks). Examples of dishes we ate were:

  • Mooli (a type of radish), carrot and tofu with walnut
  • Chestnut soup with yuzu (Japanese citrus fruit)
  • Shitake mushroom sushi
  • A sort of mixed veg tempura but made with puffed rice rather than the normal batter
  • Home made soba noodles with a dipping soup (veg stock)
  • Chestnut rice with nameko Miso soup

The meal was finished with the most exquisite slice of melon I have ever tasted which worked like a sorbet to cleanse the palate before a final cup of Green tea.

It may sound simple fare, but the flavours are subtle and highly sophisticated. So much so that this restaurant has a Michelin star.

We were charmingly presided over by the proprietor of 40 years, who not only greeted us, but also cooked for us, served us and then bowed deeply as we left his premises very satisfied. Despite the supreme food quality and the small numbers of people that can be served, the bill was a very reasonable £55 per head.

A small price to pay for a truly memorable Christmas (not Christmas) dinner!


To read Chapter 1 of David and Kasumi’s Japanese food experiences click here