Tokyo is well-known for being a highly concentrated Michelin starred restaurant city. In fact, Tokyo has in a number of years topped the list for being the city with the highest concentration of restaurants with Michelin stars. However, for those familiar with Michelin-starred restaurants, you would also likely know that restaurants that have received this Holy Grail of achievement for culinary standards are also almost always inevitably expensive. Finding a Michelin-star restaurant that is affordable is therefore exceptionally difficult.
Touted as being most probably the cheapest one-star Michelin restaurant you can find, Nakajima, a small, easily unnoticed establishment located in Shinjuku, specialises in its sardine dishes. From sardine sashimi to grilled sardine, each piece of sardine is delicately sliced and prepared by the chefs who have been trained to deal with the best ingredients. The lunch menu has the sardines prepared in 4 ways – deep-fried with breaded crust, raw sashimi, grilled, or simmered with soy sauce and egg.
I visited on a Monday afternoon, slightly past 12:30, and was very glad to see that the queue was not too long. Having heard stories of a 1-hour wait or having been turned away at the door when one reached in the late afternoon, I was ready to be faced with disappointment. However, I was lucky, and there were approximately only 5 people waiting in line before me. Joining the mix of sarariman (i.e. Japanese male office workers), tourists, and elderly ladies looking for a good lunch, I waited patiently in line. The crowd Nakajima draws is unsurprisingly diverse. Given its location in the heart of Shinjuku, surrounded by office buildings, it understandably draws office workers looking for a cheap but tasty meal. Similarly, tourists have also become acquainted with Nakajima in recent times for its cheap prices, good food, and Michelin-star tag.
I waited in line for around 20 minutes, and was given a menu while waiting. Indeed, the lunch sets were incredibly affordable. Sides such as fried sardine tempuras and cold tofu are also available for order. English menus are available as well, just request for them when handed the menu. Orders are taken before you are showed your seat so you wouldn't have to wait too long to be served your food. I ordered the Yanagawanabe set, which costs ¥900, as I’ve seen way too many videos of that delicious sardine dish with bubbling egg casserole.
I was positively starving just from smelling the sardine dishes being served to the other tables. Finally, I was showed to a counter seat, and the Yanagawanabe sardine was served. The hot plate kept the egg bubbling, and it was a tantalizing sight to behold! Each set comes with rice, pickles and miso soup, making for a very satisfying and filling meal. The broth in which the sardine was cooked in was flavourful, and each piece of sardine was indeed well-fried but not oily, tender and delicious. There was no need to worry about the soft bones in the sardine as they could be easily swallowed. All in all, it was a satisfying meal, and a Michelin star experience for less than ¥1000!
Nakajima is open for lunch from 11:30 to 14:00, and from 12:30 to 21:30 for dinner. Do note that the cheaper menu is only available for lunch. Dinner menus are far more expensive, with course meals being the norm, starting from around ¥8,000. Nakajima is closed on Sundays and can be found at東京都新宿区新宿3-5-32-5 日原ビルB1.