Kikuya is Tokyo's first stand-up tempura and craft-sake bar, an extremely specific culinary niche that we didn't realize needed filling until we visited. Most standing sake bars provide some sort of nourishment to go with your drinks, whether it's simple rice crackers and dried fish or something more elaborate. Kikuya's food offerings definitely occupy the gourmet end of the scale, with delicate seasonal tempura prepared by a highly skilled master of the vat.
As with any good tempura shop the menu at Kikuya changes daily, depending on what's in season and what's available at the fish market that day. Tempura-shop standards like conger eel and prawns appear alongside more offbeat items like avocado, myoga ginger shoots and mini-bananas. Portions are smaller than in a typical sit-down tempuraya and are correspondingly cheaper, so you can enjoy a variety of different flavors to go with your chosen sake.
When your order arrives your waiter will let you know which of your deep-fried delicacies are pre-seasoned and which should be accompanied by the house-made dipping sauce or one of their three artisanal salts. In addition to tempura, we highly recommend ordering a plate of Kikuya's home-made pickles. They have a salty, mild tartness that complements both the fried dishes and just about any sake on the list.
There are usually four or five craft sake to choose from on the regular menu, plus a couple more seasonal specials on the daily chalkboard, and maybe some unlisted surprise bottles sitting in the fridge. Everything here is well chosen, so it's hard to go wrong, but feel free to consult with your waiter if you have specific sake preferences. There are also a few Japanese wines and the usual beer and cocktails.
The decor is simple and stylish, with bonsai and dried-flower arrangements and traditionally dyed fabrics framed on the walls. The dining room is packed every night with a hip young crowd who appreciate the chance to enjoy good food and sake at budget-friendly prices. Since it's a standing bar the customers do move along, so in spite of the crowds you should be able to find a spot at the counter to squeeze into before too long.
This book will introduce you to more than twenty of Japan's favorite specialty foods that are less well known abroad, along with a guide to the best places in Tokyo to try them and expert tips on what to order. From Bento.com.