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Nov 29, 2007 12:39 AM

Nabura Roppongi

After reading Steamer's opening remark at his thread "Eat and Report Back", I decided to write to recommend one of my favorite restaurants in Tokyo : Nabura Roppongi. I have visited there 5-6 times in the last 2-3 years and have never been disappointed. It is not listed in Michelin and I don't even think it is well known, but I enjoyed it as much as my experience in Jiro (3 star) or Ryugin (2 star).

Nabura specialized on high end seasonal seafood, not really your typical sushi joint, but it has varieties of seafood air flown from different parts of Japan, and mostly cooked in traditional way, retaining the freshness of the ingredients. I noticed most of the threads here focus on typical traditional Japanese food such as sushi/sashimi, kaiseki, ramen that are well known outside of Japan. But I personally feel that Japan also offers the best seafood because of the way they know how to handle the freshness of the ingredients that is unmatched anywhere else in the world.

Nabura is in the basement of the building; once you entered, it is like a sushi bar or high end izakaya with 15-20 seatings and another 3 tatmi rooms. But instead of sashimi/sushi varieties, they have different seafood displayed. There is no English menu; only 2 persons spoke English there: one is the young lady chef and the other a part time waitress. Of all my visits, we are always the only foreigners there. The crowd are mostly corporates spenders, wealthy middle aged couples or being in Roppongi, the sugar daddy-club hostess type of clients.

I recommend sitting on the bar counter rather than the tatami room for 2 reasons: first, the lady chef on the counter speaks English so there is someone that you can ask for recommendation, and second, you get to see what your neighbors eat so if that looks really good, you can just point at it and order the same dish.

My visits happened to be on Oct-March period, which is actually the best time of the year for seasonal sea food. My recommendation below is based on this winter period. I went with a group of 3-4 persons, and price is about 10-15k per person but it also depends on what you order on the ala carte menu.

We usually started with ankimo (monkfish) liver with ponzu sauce. I believe this is only available from Nov-Feb period. I had this dish plenty of time in Singapore but what I had here is simply unmatched in terms of the freshness and flavor. I would say the same thing for all the dishes below: it just taste more delicious here than outside of Japan due to the freshness and cooking skill. Next is shirako 白子 (which means fish sperms). Yes, i understand for those of you who have never heard of it, the idea of eating fish sperms is disgusting but this is actually a winter delicacy. It is white color (of course, what other color could it be?), very soft feel (the other dish that I have come across with similar touch is cow's brain, probably another disgusting food to many readers). It can be cooked with ponzu sauce, or bbq with slight crispy outside but retain the softness inside, or fried tempura style, or on a clear soup. I personally prefer ponzu sauce but if I already had ankimo ponzu style as the first dish, I probably will want the BBQ style.

I will also select 1 or 2 oysters as appetizer as well as the Japan oysters are simply delicious. Another good appetizer would be sharkfin chawamushi ふかひれ餡掛けの茶碗蒸し. Chawamushi is a cup of egg custard that is mixed with vegetables, mushroom and dashi. On this dish, it adds sharkfins on top of the dish. It is simply the best chawamushi I ever had.

We usually also ordered 毛がに crab from Hokkaido, accompanied with a small dipping in-house sauce (I have no idea what it is). The roe is almost as good as hairy crab (seasonal crab from Shanghai) and it has plenty of crab meat so fresh it almost melt in my mouth. On the last trip, the boss's wife recommended me the live squid that they pulled out from their tank, sliced sashimi style and accompanied with 3 sauces, which reminds me of the way the sashimi were served in Ryugin. There was one lemon sauce, one salt and I can't remember the last one. Each sauce complements the other one.

Next come the fish. If you are willing to splurge, then order 特大きんき煮付け. It is kinki cooked in nitsuke sauce. I believe kinki fish is only available in winter time period too and it is quite expensive. If you are not willing to pay that type of price, then a substitue would be 赤むつ  nakamutsu, which is almost as good but half the price of kinki. I don't know what nitsuke sauce is in English; there is probably no English word as I only eat it in Japanese food. The whole fish is presented on the plate but it is a very small fish and I can actually finish it myself alone.

Another favorite dish there is あわび肝味噌焼き 雲丹をのせて; it is abalone with miso paste and add uni on top of it. I don't think that is the correct translation (I don't read Japanese) but that is basically what I ate based on that order. Another amazing dish. To finish off, we also ordered an ankimo nabe (hotpot soup). It is the same ankimo fish that I described above. I think this is my wife's favorite soup of all time. However, I do have to warn that we tried it once in March and it simply does not taste as well as in December and I assume that is due to the tail end of this seasonal food, which may not provide the same freshness as in December.

There are still a few other dishes I tried but they are not as outstanding as the ones that i have described above. The problem is after finishing this part, I feel so hungry now that I feel like flying to Tokyo again to eat rather than to describe the food. But next trip is probably 6 months away. Just have to face reality.

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  1. "煮付け" is not a type of sauce. It means braised- usually in soy sauce. This method is often done to fish that's not fresh or a less desirable part of the body such as the head, or, in kinki's case, bony fish that grilling wouldn't suffice to pick at the meat....It's certainly a nice review, but I'll pass on Roppongi. If you're heading back in six months, hold your breath and step out of Minato Ward.

    11 Replies
    1. re: Silverjay

      Hi Silverjay: thanks for explaining nitsuke. Though I personally think that the fish head is the best part of the fish, not the less desirable part. What is wrong with Minato ward? Too expensive?

      1. re: FourSeasons

        There are many fine, surely great, dining experiences to be had in the Roppongi area- these days. But in the words of many Japanese friends and my spouse- Roppongi is not Japan. Hotels, embassies, foreign company HQs, stand-up bars, clubs, etc.? Don't get me wrong- loved it as an expat. As a tourist, that's just plain lame.

        Surely Roppongi has a doppelgänger in Singapore????

        1. re: Silverjay

          I think the argument that Roppongi is not Japan probably focus on Roppongi Crossing with all the sleazy bars hanging around that area. But I am a foodie, and to avoid a restaurant simply due to its location and label it as "not Japan" enough seem rather odd to me. But I can accept your point.
          Anyway, Nabura is 100% Japan. On my many visits there, I am the only gaijin. Did not even see any expatriate or Japanese speaking foreigners. The first time the concierge made the reservation on my behalf, they already warned me there is no English menu and no English speaking stuff (turns out there is one). It is operated by a husband-wife team, totally focus as they are there all the time. Yes, the food is expensive, the crowd is high spenders willing to splurge and not a typical neighborhood izakaya. But in return, you get the freshest seafood and many varieties from different parts of Japan.

          1. re: FourSeasons

            I agree. Sure Roppongi has a bad rep. But its coming up in the world and with some high-brow options in Midtown and Roppongi its not just the gaijin playground it used to be. Personally I try and avoid restaurants in these massive complexes (or in hotels for that matter)...I just prefer the stand alone place, it feels different and authentic. Either way, you can't argue with some of the big names those places have attracted.

            I would say that not going to a restaurant in Roppongi just because there are a bunch of obnoxious ex-pat clubs, bars, etc. is pretty ridiculous. I know tons of Japanese people who recommend places there all the time. And when I get there to eat, often times I'm the only 白人 in sight.

            Sure, the average Japanese person will denounce Roppongi as the sleazy tourist frat party that, admittedly, it can become at night...but a lot of the Japanse people that say that kind of thing have never even really been there, or been there recently, or even heard of some of the great restaurants in the area. They are missing out, and since its keeps the crowds down, its all the better.

            1. re: tokyosalaryman

              The crowds will not be kept down in Roppongi, but will increase thanks to big name foreign chefs and high profile mall-like "destinations" that will attract hoards of both domestic and foreign tourists. And the attention it will continue to garner will continue to be disproportionate to its actual representation of dining in Tokyo. It remains the easy way out for tourists and so I lament the Japan board's disproportionate coverage of the area.

            2. re: FourSeasons

              Glad you enjoyed Nabura. I too like all those dishes you listed. I hope we can help guide you to some more pleasant experiences around some of the other parts of Tokyo.

              1. re: Silverjay

                Hi Silverjay: Did not realize you are so negative on Roppongi. Maybe you hear too much "Gonpachi", "Inakaya", "Hard Rock Cafe" in that area, but I assure you that it is beyond just foreign chefs or tourist spots now with great local chefs restaurants(such as Jiro, Ryugin, Hamadya, Nabura....just to name a few) aiming not for tourist market but genuine foodies. Anyway, we all have personal preferences and biases so let's just focus on the food scene. You know my taste bud so I look forward to let you expand my horizon to your new discoveries. By the way, look forward to read the details of your trip to Hakodate.

                1. re: FourSeasons

                  I'd rather drink muddy water out of a hollow log than hang out in Roppongi, I just don't like all the dirt bags. But you can't deny there are a lot of good places to eat there. And when you are at Nabura or whatever, you are no longer in Roppongi, you are in the the world created by the restaurateur. There is an incredible depth of good restaurants, and drinking places here--who cares where they are? In L.A. we would drive to the gates of hell for a great pupusa, or brave any strip mall for a great plate of Thai fried noodles, or bowl of pho. Good food is where you find it.

                  1. re: FourSeasons

                    You misunderstand. My point is not regarding Roppongi itself. I've spent more time in Roppongi working, eating, and drinking than you've probably spent in Japan. My point is the endless series of claims from foreign tourists who are constantly finding culinary "nirvana" in the seven or so block radius surrounding the Grant Hyatt Roppongi Hills. Fresh seafood restaurants can be found all over the place for considerably cheaper than the premium you pay to be within the shadows of a hotel district. Since the World Cup in 2002, the subway/train system is now completely signed in English. There's simply no excuse for people not to explore the Metropolis anymore. Yes, inside, restaurants are their own world. But they are not in vacuums. They are in distinct neighborhoods and much of what dining out in Tokyo is about, is stringing together a few places within walking distance. Recommend you spread your wings beyond Roppongi and Ginza.

                    1. re: Silverjay

                      Ok, so now your problem is not Roppongi but my above review as "endless series of claims from foreign tourists who are constantly finding culinary nirvana in ..... Roppongi Hills".
                      Not all "foreign tourists" are as naive and unsophisticated as you think they are to restrict themselves to Roppongi area. I have never limited myself to Roppongi/Ginza area as you claimed. But let's face it: there is no doubt there are awful lot of great restaurants in these 2 areas. This is not the opinion of a "foreign tourist" but many Japanese will testify to this claim as well. It is only gaijin who want to appear more "Japanese" that will refute this.
                      Yes, fresh seafood are all over Japan. I am a regular visitor to Japan and have eaten many over the years, not just outside of Roppongi/Ginza area but outside of Tokyo as well. Nabura is still my favorite. Does that mean there is no better ones? Of course not. I want to keep looking for new discoveries in any area that serves great food. That is why I surf Chowhound. We are all here to exchange information and share tips about food. For example, many of us here are thankful to Steamer for first recommending Ryugin. Who cares whether it is in Roppongi or your favorite neighborhood areas. Who cares whether Steamer is Japanese or tourist. Good food is good food.
                      This thread is about Nabura. I wrote it in response to Steamer's call for more recommendation as the site is getting "dead". I do not have vested interest there, just one happy customer. The readers will judge for themselves if they have any interests. Don't worry, I am sure I will "spread my wings" beyond this areas. So let's just focus on Nabura on this thread.

                      1. re: FourSeasons

                        Clearly the way I phrased my last post led to this personal response by you. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa.

        2. Going to Nabura wasn’t exactly my idea, but Akiko from Aronia de Takazawa recommended it warmly. A quick check on the usual websites confirmed that this was probably a good idea to get a reservation there, so I did.

          Nabura lies in Roppongi, in an unattractive part of Tokyo. However, as soon as one enters the restaurant, it’s a real oasis of voluptuousness that appears. Everything, from the few steps leading to the dining room, the dishware, waitstaff kimono and even the music oozes with refinement.

          Yet, it’s not one of those places where luxury rhymes with coldness. On the contrary, beyond the excellent food, the friendly and simple atmosphere made this dinner particularly memorable.

          At Nabura, seafood is king. If sashimi and nigiri are present, they’re not the main attraction. The menu is quite long, appetizing, even if some items like turtle soup or whale will probably repel some people. As we were unable to chose anything in particular, we opted to go the omakase route.

          To be honest, I wasn’t hungry at all, and didn’t feel well, because of a long night the day before, leading to some sleep deprivation. However, our meal lasted for more than 3 hours, and never did my interested falter, as I was curious to see the next dish. A real exploit!

          Unfortunately, tiredness and the three months that passed since this meal have limited my memory of some dishes. To go into a detailed description of each and everyone would make no sense.
          That said, a few constants among what we were offered remain vividly imprinted in my memory: freshness and quality of the products, as well as the accuracy and clarity of their preparation. Also, the display of the dishes in the plates was always beautiful, not unnecessarily complicated, and always bringing the product forward.

          We started by tasting some fantastic crab, fatty octopus, soft and tasty monkfish liver, and also mentaiko (marinated cod roe). Then, some fish in limpid stock, with very subtle taste. The sashimi assortment and sushi were really excellent, even in regard of our best sushi meals in Tokyo.
          The grilled fishes (among which there was kinki) we went on with were unknown to me, but nevertheless excellent. The discovery of new products really added to the magic of the meal, but what a frustration to be unable to recall them more clearly today…

          I also ordered one a la carte dish: grilled abalone with butter and asparagus. It was exactly that, and excellent. The association between the almost rubbery texture of the abalone, with the more crunchy asparagus, flavors of sea and earth bound with butter, everything seemed perfect.
          To finish off the meal, we had some daikon and boutargue toasts, and a choice between udon, soba and rice.

          Fortunately, dessert was light. On one side, a small bowl of gelified fruits, fresh and slightly tangy. On the other, under a small peach (momofuku), a fantastic scoop of sweet potato, that made for a perfect end to the meal.

          Adding to the frustration of not being in the best shape to enjoy this dinner, the fact that I don’t speak Japanese was equally saddening. The young chef behind the counter where we were seated, as well as Nabura’s owner were very eager to communicate with us, and were going out of their way to satisfy us.
          We were able to have some limited communication with them, thanks to our waitress who spoke some good English.
          Among the surprises of the meal, the chef offered us an absolutely terrific sake: fresh, somewhat acidic, slightly effervescent… a revelation, that made me realize how good sake can be.

          This meal cost 46,000 JPY for two, including beverage. This seemed like a very good price/quality ratio, even though we opted for the most expensive option. For anyone eager to discover Japanese seafood beyond raw fish, Nabura would probably be a perfect choice.
          And the fact that the chef accompanies you out of the restaurant, and then in the street thanking you with this very Japanese mix of sincerity, humility and warm kindness is priceless.

          full review with photos:
          the photo gallery:

          1. For any hound who still follow this thread, Chef Oyakata has left Nabura and opened up his new restaurant Sawaichi that is nearby the same area.

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