Minami Aoyama Toshio 南青山 とし緒 (Tokyo)

Location: Tokyo, Japan
Address:  5-12-4, Minami-Aoyama, Minato (All 菓連 building B1F)
Type of Meal: Dinner  

Minami Aoyama Toshio is situated on a quiet street in Minami Aoyama, at the basement level of a building but is still visible from the street. If you’d like to visit, it’s a place that’s harder to find but not impossible, included below is a picture of its entrance.

Upon entering the dining area I was excited for the intimate surroundings (about nine bar seats and two tables). We were brought to the bar, which is always a treat to be seated near the chef as I love to watch them prepare ingredients and put dishes together. Although, in this case, a bit of a turnoff as he kept coughing and most times not even covering his mouth.  Luckily, by then he had already prepared our sashimi dish, but I felt a little disgusted for the other patrons – really he should wear a mask.

The hand written menus were attractive and foreshadows Toshio’s beautifully presented dishes to come. Although they have a la carte options, we went with the omakase (tasting menu). Unfortunately, I don’t know the price per person but our bill ended up being ¥50,400 (inclusive of taxes and gratuities) for four people, three beers and a glass of white wine.

To start, a hollowed mikan (type of mandarin orange) was filled with a hot taro/sweet potato (?) paste which had a smooth but slightly sticky texture from the starch.  Pods of edamame and a piece of scallop sat at the bottom; the edamame adding a nice crunch but the scallop overdone. Overall, a good start but you have to be careful to not get over zealous with scraping at the mixture as the mikan pith comes up and taints it with a bitter taste. 

An appetizer dish arrives next with tons to try. On a clockwise basis:
  • The square dish contained an interesting combination of creamy fish roe paste and blanched veggies, where the paste is very smooth and has a nice briny flavour.
  • Next, a Japanese take on an avocado and crab salad.  The blue crab meat was fresh and delicious going well with pieces of rich avocado and crab roe.  I enjoyed this simple but succulent dish.
  • Meanwhile, the karasumi, slices of cured mullet roe dried in the sun and then waxed, is truly an acquired taste. These orange slices are the consistency of pressed preserved egg yolks (sometimes found in the Chinese mooncakes) with the flavour of fish and a hint of bitterness. I’ve heard it’s a delicacy generally enjoyed with sake and tried but could not finish them.  Rather I ate the pieces of pear sandwiched in between the karasumi and relied on the pickled onion at the middle of the dish to take away the lasting aftertaste.
  • Lastly were two pieces of seared mackerel oshizushi (pressed sushi). It was average but somewhat expected for something premade and just added to the dish.

The sashimi platter was beautifully presented - the plate and slices of radishes brought out the colours of the fish so well! The thinner slices were more to my liking – simple and clean tasting.  Meanwhile, the stronger fishy taste of the thicker slices was more of a challenge but my husband preferred them. Two sauces arrived with the sashimi – the sweeter thick soy made for the thicker slices and the citrusy ponzu for the thinner fish.

Next, we were presented with two large pieces of fugu kara-age (also known as pufferfish or blowfish). The crust wasn’t tempura but thicker and akin to a fried chicken coating. The fugu is a dense whitefish with the texture of grouper or shark and is rather tasteless. Personally, I enjoyed the thinner piece which may have been the inflating portion of the fish as there where layers of gluey collagen and lots of bones with the meat. On the other hand, the thicker slice was just a big piece of rather bland fish. 

In the end, fugu is not the tastiest type of fish. Instead, people are drawn to it for its lethal nature given the fish has toxic parts that could be poisonous if not removed.  Only trained and licensed chefs in Japan are allowed to serve fugu (quite an extensive process including years of apprenticeship and various exams) so it’s generally not offered at many restaurants. Some say you get a numbing effect in your mouth when you eat it, this didn’t happen to me (perhaps because it wasn’t eaten raw) but I did have a weird feeling in my throat afterwards.

The best course of the night was a dish of thinly sliced beef with vegetables. I can’t remember what type of beef it was, but could have been the valuable Matsuzaka (a type of wagyu). It certainly had a rich flavor and was so well marbled that it sort of melts in your mouth. The crisp and lightly marinated vegetables (daikon, radish, brussel sprouts) helped to cut through the greasiness. However, I felt the ground pork stuffed shiitake mushroom could have been left out as it didn’t complement the dish well and personally wasn’t a fan of the mucus like consistency of the raw egg it was sitting on. 

Since it was winter, I was excited to see the bubbling hot stone bowl of the next course; that is until l I noticed the brain like matter sitting in the middle of it.  Luckily, it wasn’t brains or intestines (my second guess) but rather shirako which can also be known as milt or cod fish sperm. Its texture is soft and creamy (similar to silken egg tofu) and really wouldn’t be that horrible if it weren’t for the fishy and slightly bitter aftertaste… perhaps I shouldn’t have held the small piece I ate in my mouth to really taste but rather wash it down with as much soup as possible. Needless to say, I couldn’t handle it and scooped it out of the soup.

The broth was slightly sweet and flavoured with more of the mikan mandarins, which in my opinion ruined what could have been a delicious soup. I’ll admit it’s just my tastes - I detest most sweet & salty combinations and find fruit generally doesn’t go well with other ingredients. However, I was impressed with the carrots in the soup; they don’t have a stronger taste but were such a vivid orangey red colour. 

Rice accompanied the following course so we knew it was the last. The typical fish (this one soaked in a sweet soy and topped with green onion and sesame seeds), pickled veggies (thick dried seaweed and a very flavourful sweet & tart cherry) and soup (dark miso with fried gluten pieces) rounded everything off nicely.

The meal ended off on a high note with delicious desserts (two for each couple). Firstly, was a warm glutinous honey jelly with cold vanilla ice cream, the combination went wonderfully together.  Topping everything was a ground almond (?) powder adding a hint of nuttiness (in texture and flavour) to the dish. 

A rich green tea pudding was the other; the tea powder so infused into the custard that it gave it a powerful punch. Its creamy finish on the tongue was absolutely delightful.

Although I didn’t really enjoy the taste of most of the dishes (on account of the many sweet & salty combinations and bitter tastes), Toshio did offer the most unique dining experience of the trip. After all, restaurants don’t often serve karasumi, fugu and shirako all in the same meal! So, if you have an open mind and the desire to try rare local delicacies this is definitely the meal for you.

Overall mark - 6.5 out of 10

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Gastro World's Grading System
  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!