Chef’s Destination – Lost in Japan

Chase Kojima, Chef of The Star Sydney’s Sokyo and Kiyomi restaurant at The Star Gold Coast tells us about the best places to wine and dine in Tokyo, home of the sushi and sashimi masters.

Chef Chase Kojima at Sokyo
Chase Kojima at Sokyo

What do you love most about Tokyo?

Right when you arrive, there’s an unmatchable level of hospitality. Tokyo has so much to look at, with culture bumping into you every turn you make. You’re never limited when it comes to activities and experiences. I’ve been there so many times and have never once felt bored.

What do chefs in Japan do differently to those in Australia?

In terms of fine dining, the Japanese place significant focus on produce. It’s all about capturing what’s best for eating now and appreciating the season. If you’re holidaying in Japan, you’ll notice you’re eating the same ingredients everywhere you go – while each chef adds their creativity and flare, you’re mostly consuming whatever is in season. It’s all about simplicity and figuring out how to enhance the flavour of the produce available. While Australia also focuses on sourcing fresh produce, there’s a difference in how consistent all restaurants are in their ingredient offerings – it’s not strictly seasonal.

You wake up in Tokyo. Where do you head for the perfect cup of joe?

Tokyo is picking up in its cafe culture. I’m very weird when it comes to coffee. While there may be so many great new places, I love my cheap coffee from Doutor, which is basically the Starbucks of Japan. It’s on every corner, and you’d be amazed by how fast and efficient they are. Every day I would wake up and get an Americano and fresh Milano sandwich for a ridiculously cheap $6. I don’t worry about fancy breakfasts in Japan when there are such great inexpensive options.

For the ultimate fine-dining experience, what would you recommend?

If you’re after sushi, go to a place called Sushi Sawada – it’s not fussy, it’s just super simple and delicious. While there may be other places that are more fun and entertaining, this is the real deal. The chef here is a super chef… who doesn’t smile! You can feel an energy that will make you respect sushi more. To experience the theatre of Japanese dining, I’d head to Den. The chef there, Zaiyu Hasegawa, is rated one of the best Japanese chefs in the world. You’ll have an amazing time.

Sashimi bowl at Sokyo
Sokyo Sashimi Bowl

If you wanted to have a truly authentic Japanese meal, at which restaurant would you dine?

There’s a restaurant called Ukai Chikutei that’s a quick drive out of Tokyo where you can get the full experience of an authentic Japanese meal. It’s 25 minutes from the CBD, in an old-school village on the foot of Mt. Takao. From the architecture to the scenery and food, everything oozes Japanese tradition.

How about the best spot for an after-dinner night cap?

Roppongi Hills and Nishi-Azabu are suburbs in Tokyo with a lot of expats and excellent nightlife. You’ll find great wine and whisky with excellent bars. Here you’ll find a restaurant called Gonpachi where the infamous fight scene in the movie Kill Bill was shot. There are three levels, with old-school tapas and a great selection of beverages.

Where would you head if you were craving something sweet?

I don’t have a go-to dessert spot, because I always know what I’d be craving can be found everywhere. There’s a trendy dessert in Japan at the moment called kakigori, which is basically shaved ice served with colourful syrup. It’s very Instagrammable and can be found on almost every street in Tokyo.

It’s your final meal in Tokyo. What is it and where do you order it from?

This is a very tricky question. If it were my final meal, it would probably be sushi at Saito. Now this place has three Michelin stars and is almost impossible to get into, but if it were my last meal, I’d do everything in my power to go there