4 January 2012
my escape: tokyo by nick d
The talented muso takes us through one of his favourite holiday spots.
An utterly passionate muso, Nick D spends his time immersed in the culture of his lifelong obsession with all things music. As breakfast host on George FM, Nick has an avid following of listeners who tune in to hear his upbeat and positive outlook on the life that surrounds us. A frequent international traveller filming television shows, conducting interviews and performing DJ sets all over the world, Nick’s favourite holiday spot is Tokyo.
With more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other city on the planet, Tokyo is without doubt the gastronomic capital of the world. Although at times it can be quite tricky to unlock them. Having a basic knowledge of the language (or a friend that does), and doing a bit of pre-planning with your bookings, will reward you with some of the greatest meals you’ll eat in your life. It’s almost ridiculous to say it, but Yamada Chikara can lay claim to my most memorable gastronomic experience. With four years experience working alongside Spanish chef Ferran Adria at the ‘number one for so many years’ restaurant in the world – El Bulli -Yamada has certainly mastered the molecular gastronomic secrets of its haute cuisine but applies them to a modern take on Japanese kaiseki. One minute it’s a scientific experiment in your mouth with freeze dried foie gras in a hot beef consume, the next it’s roasted, smoke-infused eel and the freshest cuts of tuna and octopus around. I could go on, but trust me, this is a meal you’ll remember for the rest of your life. 1-15-2 Minami-Azabu, Minato Ward
One of my biggest passions in life for many years was to have a jolly good dance. Sadly, in my home city Auckland this doesn’t really happen so much these days due to a multitude of factors, but, most importantly, because of sound. To say Tokyo has the best club culture in the world isn’t a stretch – it really does. The sound systems in clubs like Womb, The Room and especially what was once known as Yellow (now Eleven) are engineered by the best guys in the business and the experience is always nothing short of exhilarating. Eleven is located in Nishi-Azabu just behind the crossing where the Kill Bill restaurant Gopanchi lies, down the stairs and a quick wander through its many rooms will uncover the most passionate music-loving crowd, the best sound, and virtually every night, some of the best DJ’s the world has to offer. A night here always ends as an adventure. www.go-to-eleven.com
One of the best things you can do if you’ve arrived in Tokyo for the first time is to just have an aimless wander, and more often that not, the first port-of-call to experience the full sensory experience Tokyo is renowned for is Shibuya. Head to Shibuya for its ‘oh my god I feel like I’m stuck in a pinball machine’ and Harujuku for that ‘oh my god they really do have guys dressed like Elvis and girls like Little Bo-Peep’ vibe. Pretty soon though, you’ll need a rest from the sensory overload, and the best place to do that is the Meiji Shrine just behind Harujuku station. It’s always mad to think that such a real slice of historical Japan lies literally a minute’s walk from the hustle and bustle of one of the busiest parts of the busiest city on earth. The dense forest is incredible to walk though and the shrine itself is a sight to behold. Your Zen levels will be set back to normal in a jiffy. A must-do if it’s your first visit. www.meijijingu.or.jp
Sushi-Dai at Tsukiji Fish Markets
It shouldn’t come as any surprise that the best sushi in the world is found in Tokyo. What most will have you believe though, is that to really get the ‘sushi-experience to end all sushi experiences’, you’ll have to wait three months for a booking at Sukiyabashi Jiro Honten or Mizutani in Ginza, as well as being prepared to pay a very hefty price tag. That’s not the case. I’ve been lucky enough to eat a fair amount of sushi in my time, and Sushi-Dai is by far the best you’ll get and at a quarter of the price of such establishments. Located right next to the Tsukiji fish markets, it’ll be an early rise as Sushi-Dai don’t take bookings and you can expect to wait in line for around an hour to get one of the dozen seats. You will be rewarded with the freshest fish you’ll ever find in your life. Make sure you bring a sense of adventure with you – those Cod Fish sperm sacs ain’t for the faint-hearted.
Izakayas are essentially the back-bone of Tokyo eating, they are tiny little places that serve delicious morsels of food to accompany drinking, beer and, of course… sake! I guess my point with this is that it’s all too easy, especially if you lack the language, to fall upon the familiar in Japan – a Yakitori or Soba house, or, of course, named restaurants. If you really want an authentic Japanese experience, find a Izakaya, put yourself in the hands of the chef, and make sure you get the sake to match. Sure, there are a couple of dishes here and there that might be very alien, but on the whole your belly will thank you for your curiousity and with sake in the mix you’ll be singing karaoke with the owner in no time.
Loft Department Store Shibuya
Whenever you go to Japan you’ll always find a chorus of friends saying ‘make sure you bring me back something crazy!’. Loft in Shibuya is the place where, if you’ve left all your shopping to the last minute, you can nail gifts for everyone that all come chocka-block with their own overdose of hilarity in less than an hour. Not just that though, it’s got incredible stationery on the bottom floor, hip interiors on the 3rd and 4th and some pretty cool furniture on the 5th. For that full size sumo outfit, a toilet seat that sings to you in Swahili, or a life size Koala toy that doubles as a psychiatrist – the 6th floor is where the party is at. www.loft.co.jp/shoplist/shibuya
New York Bar
It may be a bit clichéd to include this in the list but there really is nothing like it in the world. Everyone familiar with the film Lost In Translation will know that this was where Bill Murrays’ Bob Harris spent most of his time, but surprisingly it’s less of a tourist trap than you’d think. On the 52nd floor of the Park Hyatt in Shinjuku, it’s always my first-night-in-Tokyo must – once that elevator hits the top floor and the Shinjuku skyline hits you, it’s every futurist’s Blade Runner dream come true. Unfortunately, that terrible Jazz singer with the red hair that Bob had the misfortune of waking up next to is still there from time to time, but ignore her, pull up a chair, get yourself a Suntory and enjoy the view.
It’s funny that one of the coolest new bars in a city that is full of them is run by a Kiwi. Hailing from Auckland, Nathan Smith and his team of expats cut their teeth at the acclaimed Oak Door at the Grand Hyatt and now have this incredibly classy establishment on the 5th floor of the AO Building in Aoyama. As the name would suggest, it’s a restaurant and bar – a fine dining affair backed up by a superb cellar, and then a bar. And oh what a bar it is. I think on my last trip I ended up here every night. Run by Ghanian Edward Baffoe, who is a legend among the finer drinking establishments in town, and staffed by a team of incredibly cool West-Africans, the bar really comes to life on it’s outdoor deck with its incredible views and, as you’d expect, some of the finest cocktails in town. www.tworooms.jp