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Eating out / Unassuming bistro offers informal cuisine on the outskirts of Shinjuku

The Japan News

Chef Nobuhiko Kaiharazuka at Bistrot Nobu in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo

By Ayako Hirayama / Japan News Staff WriterLocated in the modest Hatagaya shopping area west of Shinjuku in Tokyo, Bistrot Nobu is an unpretentious French restaurant that offers comfort food.

Chef Nobuhiko Kaiharazuka wants to change the high-end luxury image of French cuisine, and aims to make his eatery more accessible to people not accustomed to French cuisine by offering modestly priced meals, including a weekday lunch course for ¥1,350 including tax. His 14-seat restaurant also welcomes families with small children.

“Bistros are supposed to be casual eateries, but many bistros in Japan are quite formal,” the 41-year-old chef said. “Many Japanese perceive French cuisine as expensive and involving small portions. Unless you become accustomed to eating it, you’ll never know what is good about it.”

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    Roasted Ama pork, Kaiharazuka’s signature dish

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    Chef Nobuhiko Kaiharazuka and his wife Futaba at Bistrot Nobu

His focus on casualness doesn’t mean he cuts corners on what he serves. On the contrary, Kaiharazuka is quite meticulous about ingredients and culinary presentation. When considering menus, he prioritizes the seasons by using fresh and natural ingredients. Even side dishes are made to order, for the sake of serving them fresh.

His efforts have paid off, as the Michelin Guide Tokyo 2018 included his restaurant in its “Bib Gourmand” section that lists its inspectors’ favorites for “quality food at affordable prices” of under ¥5,000.

“I never expected this,” he said of the mention. “Our restaurant is in Hatagaya, not a trendy spot, and customers are mostly locals. We don’t even follow industry trends.”

Kaiharazuka, who studied business management at Ohio University, opened Bistrot Nobu in December 2011 after cultivating his culinary skills at restaurants in Tokyo for about eight years. Before opening his restaurant, he spent several months in Yamada, Iwate Prefecture — one of the prefectures devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake — to take part in relief efforts alongside his wife, Futaba, who worked for a nongovernmental organization at that time.

While preparing meals for disaster-affected people and helping them rebuild their lives, Kaiharazuka developed friendships with local residents. Such personal connections are alive in his dishes. One of his signature dishes is roasted Ama pork, for example. Ever since he opened the bistro, he’s procured the juicy, tender meat from a butcher in Yamada.

Bistrot Nobu is also a friendly choice for foreign customers as Futaba, who also studied at Ohio University and worked as an aid worker in Pakistan, Sudan and other countries, is fluent in English and acts as a server. The Tokyo Opera City hall is located nearby, so foreign ballet dancers and staff members from dance companies sometimes dine at the restaurant. They are particular about what they eat, so they often have many requirements.

“No sauce, no fat, or vegetables only — it’s not easy for a one-man kitchen to accommodate these special requests,” he said. “But I want to cater to them as much as possible.”

Bistrot Nobu

Open: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for lunch, 6 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. for dinner

Closed: Mondays (Tuesday when Monday is a holiday)

Address: 105, Cote Livre, 2-9-12 Hatagaya, Shibuya Ward, Tokyo

Phone: (03) 6300-9373

Credit cards not accepted

English menu available

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