With its fine balance between contemporary and traditional home-style Japanese cuisine, Hanare, a cosy yet refined izakaya in Ebisu, was an ideal venue for a small, casual dinner on a chilly autumn night. While rooted in traditional concepts, this low-key establishment echoes the quality of its more creative and western-oriented big sister, Au Gamin de Tokio, which is two flights up on the second floor of the building they share. Trattoria Mode, a casual Italian eatery in the same Au Gamin group, is on the ground floor.
Back in 2008, Au Gamin was a trailblazing bistro tucked away in nearby Shirogane. With its relaxed yet stylish atmosphere, late opening hours and friendly service, it quietly developed a solid reputation among both foreign and Japanese diners as a place for sophisticated yet unpretentious European food with Japanese twists and good wine.
Chef Takemasa Kinoshita, the talent behind Au Gamin, would preside over an open kitchen in the middle of a large, square wooden counter. French-trained with solid Japanese roots, Kinoshita developed signature dishes including an inspired uni (sea urchin) pasta, creative salads, an array of hearty Italian and French-influenced stews and grills, and the occasional Japanese home-style dish such as a hearty nabe, or hot pot.
More than a decade later, Au Gamin has relocated to Ebisu but has retained that warm, laid-back air. It has also spawned offshoots including the neighboring Hanare and Gamin Blocks, a steak and hamburger joint in Nakameguro.
Chef Kinoshita himself, an enthusiastic surfer, has reportedly relocated to Miyakojima in Okinawa to open Grand Bleu Gamin, a boutique seaside resort. But his stamp is clearly all over his small but thriving Tokyo culinary empire, in both quality and inspiration as well as the stylish and welcoming atmosphere in each of his restaurants.
The staff at Hanare are quietly professional in keeping with the somewhat subdued atmosphere – although all are courteous and knowledgeable about the origins of the produce and cooking methods. The warm wood interior is smallish although the counter can seat 11 people. There are two koshitsu or private rooms with horigotatsu – low tables in a tatami mat room with a recessed floor so diners can stretch out their legs – seating 4 and 6 diners each.
The two main chefs work in a small open kitchen, behind a broad counter displaying a tempting spread of dishes in attractive ceramic vessels.
We started with a mixed selection of appetizers, choosing from a colorful array that included marinated manganji togarashi — large green peppers; spicy konnyaku (or “devil’s tongue root”); mozuku (feathery seaweed) with myoga (a part of the ginger family) in a piquant vinegar dressing; a dish of mizuna greens with strips of aburage, or fried tofu in cold dashi broth; and delicious sumire, minced-sardine balls; and creamy zaru-dofu, homemade tofu.
Other offerings included grilled fish and meats of the day, featuring sanma, or Pacific saury, a popular autumnal fish, rather like mackerel, char-broiled to perfection.
The Aburage bakudan (or fried-tofu “bomb”) were crunchy-soft parcels stuffed with natto, fermented soy beans, and minced green onion.
Another highlight was the Ebi shinjo and renkon, lightly fried chunks of minced prawns sandwiched between thick slices of lotus root and shiso leaves.
The Dashimaki tamago, thick omelette, was just right, firm but slightly creamy.
A fragrant and perfectly cooked donabe gohan, or claypot rice, smothered with matsutake mushrooms and served with dark red (aka) miso soup and pickles provided an appropriate end to a fine meal.
The wine list of mainly European and US wines was small but carefully chosen, although on the pricey side, beginning at Y7,000 a bottle.
While the offerings next door on the top floor are no doubt more creative and distinctly European, Hanare was deeply satisfying and at about Y9,000/head including drinks, was a high quality dining experience at a mid-price range.
phone : 5420-3501
address : B1 Casa Piatto
3-28-3 Ebisu, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0013
Hours : 19:00～27:00 (L.O.26:00)
Closed : Wednesday, Year-end and New Year’s