When it comes to the total number of eateries concentrated in one neighborhood, few places are likely to beat Shinjuku.
Whether it is along an underground passageway to the subway or amid the vast forest of high-rise buildings, every available space in Shinjuku seems to be inhabited by a noodle shop, izakaya, café or fast-food joint ready to fill an empty tummy.
Many of these eateries cater to the busy commuter or harried shopper, eager to tame their hunger pangs and move on. I have always struggled to find a high quality restaurant near Shinjuku station where it is possible to enjoy excellent cuisine in a relaxing atmosphere.
Recently, however, we came across just such an establishment, conveniently located a stone’s throw from the main JR, Keio and Odakyu train stations in Shinjuku.
Oshima, which is on the 8th floor of the Odakyu HALC department store, is a Japanese kaiseki restaurant featuring haute cuisine from Kaga, an area covering the south and western part of Ishikawa prefecture on the Sea of Japan side of central Honshu, the country’s main island.
The original restaurant had its beginnings in an old Japanese inn, or ryokan, in the hot spring town of Yamanaka, about an hour outside Kanazawa, the capital of Ishikawa prefecture.
Kaga cuisine is based on Kyoto-style kaiseki and is known for its use of abundant fresh seafood, such as crab and yellowtail, which are harvested in the area, and its distinctive local vegetables.
One of the most famous dishes of Kaga cuisine is jibuni, a kind of stew in which duck meat is coated in flour and wheat gluten and simmered together with vegetables in a sweet and savory sauce. Due perhaps to its strong flavors, it is often described as an acquired taste.
Our lunch at Oshima did not feature jibuni and much to my delight was not as strongly flavored as some Kaga dishes can be.
I had wanted to try the bento, or boxed lunch, but was told that this had sold out already, so I opted for the soba (buckwheat noodle) lunch set instead.
The meal consisted of a spinach ohitashi, or blanched spinach marinated in dashi broth, steamed vegetables, sashimi, soba and a small plate of sushi rolls.
Contrary to my expectations, the ohitashi broth was very light and yet full of umami, the intensely savory flavor often described as the “fifth taste,” similar to the kind of dashi featured in Kyoto cuisine.
The soba lunch set does not include a salad but luck would have it that the waitress mistakenly placed a salad on my tray, which I happily dug into before she realized her error. This green salad was seasoned with a carrot dressing, in which the sweetness of the carrot helped to soften the acidity of the vinegar to delicious effect.
Another accompanying dish, steamed vegetables, came with a refreshing ponzu citrus-and-vinegar sauce for dipping.
The otsukuri, or small plate of mixed sashimi, was already perfectly seasoned with a light soy sauce.
Even though I left it to last, the soba was still al dente, exactly to my liking. According to soba afficionados, soba noodles must be eaten cold, because if they are served in a hot soup, the noodles continue to cook and become soft and limp.
The usual configuration is cold noodles with cold dipping sauce. Here, the soy-based dashi broth was hot, while the noodles were cold, making for a striking combination of the two temperatures in the mouth. Although this can be somewhat disconcerting to the uninitiated, the important thing is that the noodles are firm and cool, and the hot broth is full of flavor.
Conveniently, Odakyu HALC is also home to Bic Camera, the electronics store. So, after lunch we simply descended a few flights down to do some research on the latest TVs and refrigerators, which is why we were in Shinjuku in the first place.
I am sure to be returning to Oshima sooner or later, as I am determined to try the bento lunch, and will most likely visit one of several other Oshima restaurants in Tokyo as well.
In addition to Shinjuku, there are branches in Ginza, Marunouchi, Takanawa, Odaiba and Yokohama. A new branch is scheduled to open in Yurakucho in mid-October.
Address : 8th floor Odakyu HALC
Phone : 3348-8080
Website : https://www.oshima-site.com/#shop
Open : 11:00-22:00
Lunch : Set lunches from Y2,200
Dinner : Tempura set course Y4,150
Kaiseki from Y6,180