Atmosphere, quality of food, and experience are all crucial aspects to a restaurant. Isshin, located in one of the snazziest areas in Tokyo, Daikanyama, is a rice house that provides the best of these traits, and is cheapo worthy too. You can get lunch sets of traditional Japanese cuisine, including tempura or sashimi, for 980 yen – 1600 yen.
Surrounded by luxury boutiques and high-end cafes, Isshin Rice House is located at the end of a street nearby Daikanyama Hillside Terrace – a place that was designed by well-known Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki.
A bonus to Isshin is that it is not a common tourist destination, so there is no overflow of foreigners. You can enjoy the full experience of being part of the Japanese community. In fact, even a typical Japanese habitant may not know about Isshin without having a local from Daikanyama introduce it to them.
The restaurant is hidden away at the bottom of the spiralling staircase of a corner store and has a chic wooden Japanese style entrance. Upon entering through the sliding door, the soothing hum of jazz, the greeting of ‘irasshaimase’ and the occasional ‘Aiyou!’ (meaning ‘okay’ as a response to orders) from the servers welcome you. Just like at a Japanese house, you need to take off your shoes before stepping into the restaurant, so avoid wearing socks with holes in them!
You are soon led to either the counter or a table separated from the others by a short glass slab and a row of small bamboo sticks. A private compartment is also available in the back of the room for those with reservations. An interesting detail to keep your eye out for is the hay printed stools that line the bar counter in front of the kitchen. They give a light playful contrast to the otherwise conservative restaurant.
One drawback to non-Japanese speaking customers is that there is no English menu. The best way to work around this is to hope for an English speaking server to be present and ask for a verbal translation.
The menu offers a variety of different Japanese dishes, with the lunch set including a main of meat or fish, two smaller dishes that include tofu and pickled vegetables, a bowl of miso soup, some rice, and at the end of your meal, a hot cup of green tea. The lunch special changes every day, but there are also other lunch set options at or under 1600 yen. Being a rice house, you can order as much rice as you like and best of all, refills are free of charge. The rice is served in one traditional wooden round box, called an ‘ohitsu’, per table to keep the rice warm and at its best state.
The best approach to Isshin is by the Tokyu Tokyoko Line, as a is a less than 5-minute walk from Daikanyama Station. If you take the JR Yamanote Line, the JR Saikyo Line, or the Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line, it will take you around 10 minutes to walk from Ebisu Station. Another option is to take the Tokyu Transsés bus from Shibuya Station which will arrive at Hillside Terrace, which is just across the road from Isshin.