You’d think that a self confessed raw fish obsessive who has booked a trip to Tokyo would want to spend each day – morning, noon and night – slurping up every silky seafood slither in sight. Right? Well, I thought so too, until I made my 10 year dream trip to Tokyo a reality. Why? Because on the flight there, my boyfriend told me that whatever the Japanese turn their hand to, kitchen based or otherwise, turns out to be the best in the world.
So when I came across the 2016 Monocle Restaurant Awards list and saw that the number 1 spot had been awarded to a small rustic restaurant in Tokyo, run by Japanese chef, Toshiji Tomori, who spent 4 years learning his trade in Italy, there was no question I would be booking it.
It may not have a Michelin star, but anyone who goes to Tokyo with bookings only at spots recommended solely by the foodie elite, are a bit stupid in my eyes. It’s not to say I wouldn’t go to one – in fact, we had a unbelievable experience at two Michellin starred Ren, but our time spent at Cignale Enoteca was just as memorable and definitely as enjoyable – for all senses, and not just for the tastebuds.
Our booking was early doors, so we spent the day mooching around the shops and attempting not fill ourselves up before the feast. We shared a burger for lunch from an unassuming air stream truck in Harajuku. And it was then I realised maybe my boyfriend had informed me correctly – merely a small truck on a small section of patio, it was one of the best burgers I had eaten in a long time, if not ever.
As was very common on our trip, even with Google Maps leading us to the exact address, when we arrived the restaurant was nowhere to be seen. Obviously looking like two semi distressed tourists, a calm Japanese hairdresser emerged from his salon and asked what we were looking for. I have no doubt that it wasn’t the first time he had seen confused faces stood outside his shop. He took one look at the map, smiled and pointed down the little alleyway next to his shop – to what looked like a rustic shack stood next to a tiny building site. We thanked him and took a wander down.
The entrance seemed out of place in the surroundings and gave nothing away, especially when as we stepped inside, we suddenly felt as if we had been transported to a rustic country kitchen in Italy. We were greeted in the friendly and incredibly polite Japanese way and seated at the 18-seater kitchen bar.
Cignale Enoteca doesn’t have a menu, instead Chef Tomori visits diners with a platter of ingredients and moves around the plate describing the dishes you are about to receive.
First up was squid with Japanese mountain vegetables and anchovy sauce. As this was our first dinner in Tokyo, it was the first time we had ever seen this type of squid. Little did we know we were going to come by it a lot more during the week. But the tiny morsels of whole squid, which had slimy innards, just weren’t for us. Tasty on the first go, but by the time every restaurant had thrown them on our plate towards the end of the week, neither of us really wanted to see another one… ever. That’s not to say this dish wasn’t good – the mixture of Japanese and Italian ingredients made for an interesting combination and the salty anchovy sauce and fresh mountain vegetable worked well.
I spied a binchotan grill at the back of the kitchen, which Chef Tomori delicately placed expertly sliced Barracuda and waited patiently for it to cook. Once cooked, he served it with perfectly seasoned salsa verde and wasabi flower.
We also enjoyed sorpresa, something I’m no stranger to, except for Tomori served it with balsamic glaze, something I’ve not experienced before – and it really worked.
Other dishes on the ‘menu’ that night included pearl barley with tender clams served in one of the most incredible broths I have ever eaten. It was served with a home baked ciabatta, which Chef Tomori encouraged us to mop up the broth with. We also enjoyed a bloody good Wagyu Bavette steak. I’d only ever had wagyu fillet before visiting Tokyo, but as Bavette is from the underside of the cow, it is less tender but packed full of flavour. The Wagyu version was like my usual favourite, but on flavour steroids. An Italian meal wouldn’t be complete without homemade pasta, which was served with a rich tomato sauce and a gooey blob of burrata.
I can’t write this without mentioning the bottle of wine that we ordered. Both me and lunch.money love a bottle of red wine with dinner and had heard that wine is a lot more expensive than other alcoholic drinks in Tokyo. Beware reader, it really is not cheap to drink wine in Tokyo. The plus side however, is that any you do drink is likely to be the best of the best. We chose the most expensive (of course), which cost around £150 for the bottle. Believe me, though, if you ever get the chance to taste this, you’ll understand why we think it’s up there with the best £150 spent on our whole trip to Tokyo. Well, what was it? It’s called Ghost Block and is the most delectable and drinkable Cabernet Sauvignon, haling from Napa Valley in California. The worst thing about having tasted this, though? I can’t find where to buy it in the UK – and I’m truly devastated.
You might be wondering why there is a distinct lack of photos accompanying this blog post. That’s because the restaurant site we booked through cited that no photos were allowed. It wasn’t until near the end of the meal (a couple of glasses of wine down), that I plucked up the courage to ask if it was ok to snap away. And of course… it was. Although I felt a little foolish for asking right at the end, it turned out that it didn’t matter anyway – the restaurant was so cosy that any photos that we did take turned out to be unusable.
No worries, though. I’ll leave it to your imagination. If you’re planning a trip to Tokyo, like Italian food and enjoy unique flavour combinations, I urge you to book a spot at the bar at Cignale Enoteca. You won’t regret it.
Japan, 〒153-0041 Tokyo, Meguro, Komaba, 1 Chome−5−11