The New Appeal of Kabutocho

A once-overlooked neighborhood in Tokyo’s central Nihonbashi district is reinventing itself.

Caveman restaurant at K5. (Photo courtesy of K5)

Home to the Tokyo Stock Exchange, Kabutocho once drew comparisons to New York’s Wall Street: a financial hub packed with bankers, brokers, securities traders and the restaurants and bars they frequented. But after Japan’s economic bubble burst in the early 1990s and the exchange subsequently closed its sprawling trading floor in favor of all-electronic trading, the area quickly lost its luster. Flash forward to today, however, and Kabutocho is back, thanks to revitalization efforts that have ushered in a new wave of businesses and earned it a spot on Time Out’s 2020 list of the world’s coolest neighborhoods.

At the heart of the ongoing transformation is K5, a “micro-complex” that opened last February in a converted neoclassical bank building dating to 1923. Located behind the stock exchange, the four-story structure now houses a 20-room hotel (with rates from US$338 per night) that Swedish architecture firm Claesson Koivisto Rune has outfitted with bespoke furniture, tatami-inspired wool carpets, lush potted plants, and beds enveloped by sheer indigo-dyed curtains. Most rooms boast unexpectedly high ceilings, big windows, and, in lieu of TVs, turntables with a selection of vinyl records.

Downstairs, the Scandinavian-meets-Japanese aesthetic continues in a plant-filled branch of Switch Coffee and adjoining Caveman, a spinoff of the popular Nordic-Japanese Kabi restaurant across town in Meguro. Here, in a room dominated by distressed concrete walls, blond-wood furniture, original oak flooring, and a gleaming open kitchen, chef-owner Atsuki Kuroda dishes up nightly set menus of progressive Japanese cuisine that incorporate Italian elements and Scandi-style ferments. K5’s ground floor also houses a small cocktail bar–cum-library called Ao, swathed in red velvet and run by cult bartenders Kai Tanaka and Soran Nomura. The basement level, meanwhile, is taken up by B, Brooklyn Brewery’s first taproom outside New York. Expect a rotating selection of international draft and bottled craft beers alongside a taco-centric menu of bar bites.

Left to right: the entrance to K5; one of the former bank building’s high- ceilinged guest rooms. (Photos courtesy of K5)

For all its buzz, K5 isn’t the only reason Tokyoites are revisiting Kabutocho. Around the corner, chef Satoru Asahina — a protégé of the late Joël Robuchon — has opened Asahina Gastronome, which earned a Michelin star in 2020. It’s a formal yet intimate affair serving seven-course degustation menus of contemporary French cuisine: think duck foie gras with kiwi coulis, or Racan pigeon breast chaud-froid. If you prefer something more relaxed, grab a table at Neki, which opened in August on the ground floor of a mid-rise office building. This is the debut restaurant of French-trained chef Kyohei Nishi, who Tokyo diners might recall from his five-year stint at Bistro Rojiura in Shibuya. Here, as there, the emphasis is on casual French dining accented by Japanese flavors and techniques; lunchtime favorites include a pesto-drizzled pork cutlet, while a recent dinner menu featured venison with radicchio and a sauce of fermented blueberries and Tasmanian pepper.

Just up the street is another newcomer, Pâtisserie Ease, where talented pastry chef Keisuke Oyama turns fresh, seasonal ingredients into an array of gorgeous confections like black-fig mille-feuille and mango-shiso mousse cake. Whether you snag one of the stools at the counter or take your order away, don’t miss Oyama’s signature Amazon cacao cream puffs.

Left to right: Orecchiette pasta with sea urchin and cured mullet roe at Neki; chef Kyohei Nishi. (Photos courtesy of Neki)

Kabutocho regulars still miss Matsuyoshi, a beloved unagiya (eel restaurant) that closed in 2019 after a seven-decade run. But the beer lovers among them are finding solace at the location’s new tenant, Omnipollos, an outpost of the Stockholm-based gypsy brewery Omnipollo. The compact building’s classic midcentury facade and open wooden rafters remain, while revamped interiors — jazzed up with cerulean-blue walls and hits of neon — provide a suitably brash setting for a draft list that includes Omnipollo’s own Hokus Pokus pale ale, the wild ale–style Karpologi, and 8-Tuple Dry Hopped Fatamorgana, a boozy, fruity triple IPA.

Next door, SR Coffee Roaster & Bar also has Scandinavian roots: it’s an offshoot of Stockholm Roast, a micro-roaster in the suburbs of the Swedish capital. The coffee is excellent, and so too are the cocktails: toast Kabutocho’s comeback with a cold-drip negroni or coffee-infused gin and tonic.

 

This article originally appeared in the March/May 2021 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Kabutocho Makes a Comeback”).

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