Aoyama sits at that classically Japanese nexus between tradition and modernity: thatched rooftops abut cutting-edge architecture, luxury fashion houses neighbour centuries-old ceramics studios, and Maseratis pull up outside the Nezu Museum, Tokyo’s minimalist shrine to pre-modern Japanese art.
The sloping thoroughfare of Omotesando, lined with majestic zelkova trees and contemporary structures, is where the stylish and seriously cashed-up come to play. Here, you’ll find some of Tokyo’s (and the world’s) most aspirational retail – such as the glass-bubble-wrapped Prada Epicenter, Louis Vuitton’s tatami-inspired atelier and the flagship store of Rei Kawakubo’s Comme des Garçons. It’s not all luxury brands though – you’ll also find second-hand shops like Pass the Baton, which provide quality wares at a lower price point.
Dotted within this wealth of stores are some of the city’s best restaurants, cafes and bars – touch down in Haneda Airport and you’re less than an hour’s train ride from one of Tokyo’s most eclectic neighbourhoods. Here’s where to eat and drink in Tokyo’s epicentre of elegance.
There’s a uniquely Japanese expression of Americana that’s hard to understand until you’ve witnessed it in all of its vintage-Levi’s-collecting, bourbon-drinking, JFK-emulating glory. Fellows, a green, narrow burger shop on the streets behind busy Omotesando Station, is a love letter to an America that once existed, or maybe never did. Vintage McDonald’s advertising, Raggedy Ann dolls, Dr Pepper, The Texas Cowboy Cookbook, Heinz tomato ketchup and a (frankly, terrifying) Pee-wee Herman puppet all serve as decoration.
You can get a classic all-American burger here, of course – charcoal-grilled beef, melty cheese, pickles and a perfect puffy bun – but more fun is the sweet and sticky teriyaki-glazed patty with “crushed eggs” or, on the simpler end, the gorgonzola cheeseburger. Don’t forget a side of the deep-fried onion rings. Cash only.
3 Chome-8-11 Kitaaoyama, Minato City, Tokyo 107-0061
Okay, Savoy isn’t technically in Aoyama – it’s a reasonable walk beyond its cusp, in neighbouring Azabu-Juban – but it would be wrong to visit Tokyo and not make a stop here. That’s because Savoy makes a Neapolitan pizza that rivals the pizza an actual Neapolitan joint would make. That’s a grand claim, but one co-signed by Momofuku’s David Chang, who visited Savoy in his Netflix series Ugly Delicious and then declared: “The best pizza in the world is in Tokyo”. Huge.
The 12-seater isn’t much to look at, but you’ll want to focus on the one-man show taking place here, anyway. Store manager and lone pizzaiolo Bungo Kaneko (Bun) nurtures the dough in a custom-built oak-and-cedar box, preps the pies, and slings them into the 480-degree-farenheit furnace for exactly 60 seconds. Pizzas emerge from the oven blistered and charred in all the right places – and move immediately from wooden paddle to plate, so you’re eating them at their absolute prime.
There are only two options on the menu – classic margherita and a garlic-flecked marinara – but ask for the secret, off-menu four-cheese pizza bianca, which might be the best one of all.
3 Chome-10-10-1 Motoazabu, Minato City, Tokyo 106-0046
Franco-Japanese fashion and record label Maison Kitsuné branched out into cafes in 2013 – Tokyo came first, followed by Paris, Seoul, Shanghai and New York – and its new Aoyama outpost, stepping away from the original, backyard-sized location, has upped the elegance.
The bamboo-clad entrance and reflective copper counter – where you can order an iced matcha latte and fox-shaped sablé cookie to-go – have happily endured the move. In the greenery-filled dining room, designed by label co-founder Masaya Kuroki and Kitsuné’s in-house studio, tuck into a remedy for homesickness: jalapeno-studded avocado toast and a flat white. You can also shop a selection of Cafe Kitsuné-emblazoned clothing, mugs and souvenirs. If you’re not quite done browsing, pop around the corner to rifle through Maison Kitsuné’s latest collection of fox-crested sweaters, raincoats and drawstring-cinched blazers.
3 Chome-15-13 Minamiaoyama, Minato City, Tokyo 107-0062
Tonkatsu Maisen Aoyama Honten
Maisen is a Tokyo institution – you’ll find outlets of the tonkatsu (pork cutlet) purveyor all over the country and even overseas. But the Aoyama store, located in a former public bathhouse, is the original – and Maisen at its old-school best.
Take a seat at the communal front counter or in the main dining room (a little reminiscent of a wedding reception hall) and pick out the cut of pork you want to order – though you can’t go wrong with the richly-marbled Kurobuta (Berkshire). It’s served in a set meal with shredded cabbage, rice, miso soup and pickled vegetables. The panko breading is unfathomably crispy and light, and the pork within so buttery and tender that it relents beneath your fork.
If you’re just passing by, grab an obscenely good katsu-sando (tonkatsu sandwich) – fattier meat with a slightly-sweet tonkatsu sauce in sliced white bread – to-go from the kiosk window outside.
4 Chome-8-5 Jingumae, Shibuya City, Tokyo 150-0001
This maple-panelled confectionery store, designed by renowned architect Shinichiro Ogata, brings to mind an exquisite, oversized jewellery box. Its glass counters are lined with gem-toned wagashi (traditional bean-paste sweets), which come in seasonal and classic flavours such as purple sweet potato; pumpkin stuffed with cream cheese; chestnut and brandy; and the signature jujube (red Chinese date) with fermented butter and roasted walnut.
Higashiya’s Aoyama branch is smaller than the others (there’s a serene tea salon in the Ginza outpost), but it still carries a large range of the brand’s other confections: manja (steamed red-bean buns); castella cake; macaroons; agar and bean-paste jellies; and rice wafers. If gifting, make sure you buy your wagashi near the end of your stay – the fresh ingredients mean a short shelf life of four to five days.
3 Chome-17-14 Minamiaoyama, Minato City, Tokyo 107-0062
This article is produced in partnership with Virgin Australia, flying daily from Brisbane to Haneda Airport – less than an hour’s drive from Tokyo. Flights take off March 29 2020.