The Michelin-starred Torishiki in Meguro is one of the best yakitori restaurants in Tokyo

Like sushi, yakitori has humble beginnings. Directly translated to mean “grilled bird,” yakitori began as a street food where pieces of chicken were skewered and cooked over charcoal. Much like sushi, however, the dish has evolved from its days as a humble market stall offering and can now be found at high-end establishments where yakitori is elevated into a fine dining experience.

Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

One of those restaurants is Torishiki, a stylish little joint near Meguro Station that comfortably serves some of the best – and arguably even the best – yakitori in the world. Owner and patron Yoshiteru Ikegawa opened the restaurant in 2007 and has held a Michelin star since 2010. A reservation at this 17 places is difficult to find, with availability booked two months in advance.

Torishiki
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

As is the tradition of omakase-style restaurants, there are no menus here – just a row of wooden plaques on the wall with traditional kanji characters listing the seasonal items available for the day. The guests leave it to Ikegawa to decide.

Torishiki
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa(LR) Yoshiteru Ikegawa and his right arm Hideo Yasuda

There are deceptively simple kebabs ranging from incredibly tender pieces of chicken thigh to sunagimo (chicken gizzard), but even the familiar classics stand out in Torishiki. Chicken liver, for example, often has a gamey, mineral taste and a grainy texture. But at Torishiki, the ruby ​​red pieces are so buttery that they practically melt in your mouth.

Torishiki
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

“We only use a special breed of free-range chicken known as Fukuoka Date Chicken. The birds are a variety similar to the French Bresse chicken, so the meat is tastier than other domestic chickens in Japan, ”says Ikegawa.

There is another element that is crucial to the quality of Torishiki’s top-notch yakitori: the charcoal. “It is important to use high quality charcoal because it has to be able to withstand extremely high temperatures. It is the heat that makes the chicken juicy.

Torishiki
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

To get a feel for how hot the grill must be to meet Ikegawa’s standards, just look at his fingernails – some of them have blackened and melted after years of flipping kebabs with their bare hands. It is this passion that captivates the guests above all. Despite the Michelin star plus a top of the range New York City Outpost, Ikegawa remains uniquely grounded in his passion for grilled chicken kebabs for his guests.

Torishiki
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

“We are a small restaurant, so we are not always able to accommodate those looking for a counter opening. I am always sorry to turn people down when we are full and I never want to take it for granted that people are willing to go out of their way to eat here.

Torishiki
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

The chef waves to the kamidana (miniature altar) attached to the wall at the entrance. “It is dedicated to the deity of the Otori shrine in Meguro. Before starting the service each evening, we take a moment to pay homage to the restaurant’s deities and to express our gratitude to all of our guests.

Asked about the huge demand for a seat at his counter, the always gracious Ikegawa had only one answer. “Everyone loves yakitori,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. “We may only serve a small number of people here at this restaurant, but I look forward to expanding our business overseas in the future so that more people can have access to this culture.”

Torishiki
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

‘That’s why it’s so great to have Hideo in our team, ”he said, beaming at his apprentice like a proud uncle. “He studied abroad in the United States, so he speaks better English than I do. It is really important that we can converse with our diners no matter where they are from, because interacting with your diners is one of the most important things in serving yakitori.

Torishiki
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

Torishiki is open from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. and closed every Sunday and Monday. Want to try your hand at making a reservation? Try to call the restaurant on the first day of service of each month and you might just find a free seat or a cancellation: 03 3440 7656.

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