We just had a splendid meal at Namikibashi Nakamura in Shibuya, which was a truly spectacular meal with many highlights and an example of what good "gastro"-izakaya dining is all about. We certainly had to make a reservation, since I came here last November without a reservation and it was impossible to snag a table. We were seated at the counter, in front of an affable chef from Kanazawa prefecture who could speak some English. We later discovered she was the head chef, which was quite a surprise as she didn't exude the "head chef" vibe but appeared very affable and friendly.
Since we are "gaijin" and cannot speak Japanese, we had to choose between two "course" or pre-fixe menus, where they pre-select the food for you and you simply enjoy the dishes as they come.
We first had some sake: the Juyondai Junmai Daiginjo was perfect, of course - floral, fruity, ricey, with hints of strawberries, and it was very elegant and very drinkable - too drinkable in fact.
(Do I even need to rate Juyondai? How about a 9/10).
First dish that we had was a conger eel salad. It was basically salad leaves dressed in a very light and flavourful dressing of soy sauce and sudachi (like a ponzu), paired with conger eel (anago) which was just lightly grilled. The contrast between the warm eel and the cold salad worked very well. (8.25/10)
The sashimi platter came next, and the sashimi platter was excellent with most of the pieces having incredible flavour, even for a sushiya let alone an izakaya. The chutoro (medium fatty tuna) from Nagasaki was intense, sweet and floral, with a great depth of flavour. The kampachi (greater amberjack) was again flavourful, sweet, and had good depth. The esaki (grunt) was lightly seared with good sweetness and a slight smokiness from the aburi process. The katsuo (bonito) had strong rich flavour and yet it was clean - excellent. The ika was good too, quite tender. The otoro (fatty tuna) was also lightly seared, and it was very flavourful, with sweet tuna fats, good depth of flavour, and a long finish. Overall: (8.75/10)
We were also served some baby sardines with a slight bitterness. Not particularly enamoured by the dish but it wasn't bad (7.5/10)
We then had a different sake: "Machi", which is slightly sweeter and yet very fragrant with hints of almonds.
Next up, we were served with Kyoto vegetables and king crab in tempura. The vegetables were very delicious - they were very fresh and had good flavour particularly the bamboo shoots which were tender and the tempura batter was very light just the way it should be. The king crab was good too. Overall: (8.5/10)
Fresh eggplant with a herbaceous and slightly grassy flavour was next, with scallops. Overall fresh eggplants have an interesting taste, but I'm not sure I'm a fan. (7.75/10)
The standout dish then appeared, A5 wagyu from Saitama with teriyaki sauce, which was a standout - no, make that a knockout. The beef had an intense and robust beef flavour, with a desirable creaminess and sweet butteriness - very rich. There was just the desired level of funk - perhaps like a good liver. The mouthfeel was also great - the beef had just the right amount of chew. And then the teriyaki sauce was just so savoury, almost like a demiglace. This would put many a steakhouse to shame. (9/10)
We finished off with a kinmeidai sushi roll which was alright - some "rice" to finish off. (7.5/10)
Green tea ice cream with azuki beans was the dessert. Pretty good as well. (7.5/10)
Namikibashi Nakamura is a prime example of the heights that good food-focussed izakayas can hit. The food is excellent even for Tokyo. I would certainly come back again, especially if I'm with a big group which would be conducive for trying more sakes.