The rainy season is over; the heat of midsummer is just beginning. Umbrellas have been replaced with parasols, while fans and towels join face masks and wet wipes as essential accessories. Somewhere, invisible, the athletes begin to fight for medals. For the rest of us, just getting around the city requires feats of Olympian endurance.
This is the season when we need to slow down, drink and eat light. Are you looking for specific ideas? Meet in Hatagaya, a few train stops west of Shinjuku, head to Nishihara Shotengai shopping street and don’t stop walking until you reach Kon.
Originally built around 60 years ago as the private residence of a wealthy banker, it features an anonymous gray retro facade, with sensible bars protecting the windows. Lovingly preserved and renovated, with most of its original fixtures and glasswork intact, it is a classic inside and out.
Hanging near the sliding glass doors of the storefront, you will spot a banner bearing the unmistakable red kanji for kōri (ice). Welcome to one of Tokyo’s hottest new places for a cool summer refreshment, kakigori (crushed ice).
But that’s not the only thing, or even the main item, on the menu. Kon’s specialty, as the name suggests, is konnyaku. Or, rather, konnyaku sushi – small patches of firm, dark, flavorful jelly stuffed with sushi rice, each just enough for a few delicate bites (or just one generous bite). They are so good that even those who have never been konnyaku fans are likely to revise their opinion.
So how did these two very different foods – konnyaku and crushed ice – end up on the same menu? Opened in summer 2020, Kon is the brainchild of haute couture embroidery artist Moko Kobayashi, whose design studio, Maison des Perles, is located near Nishihara. Seizing the opportunity to take over this one-of-a-kind place, she came up with the idea of offering high-end versions of two favorite summer treats.
Konnyaku sushi is a tradition in the rural Aso region of Kumamoto Prefecture, an area that Kobayashi frequently visited. She worked with a local cafe, Tien Tien, to create a more sophisticated version suitable for the big city. The konnyaku is cooked with dark, umami-rich Kumamoto shoyu, lightly sweetened with sugar, then wrapped with lightly vinegared rice enhanced with flavor. shiso leaf, wasabi and sanshō pepper.
Kon associates them with small maki sushi rolls wrapped in fried tofu – known as Nankan inari, they’re another Kumamoto specialty – plus a few boiled quail eggs on a stick. Light, tasty and easy to digest, they make a great summer snack or picnic, whether in store or on the go.
Next, Kobayashi turned to kakigōri specialist Hiroshi Kawamata, whose shop, Sebastian, in the Kamiyama area of Shibuya, was among the first to offer high-quality “adult” versions of crushed ice. Instead of commercial syrups with garish colors and questionable ingredients, it uses natural flavors such as Japanese tea, coffee, and fresh fruit.
Kon has two kakigōri all year round: one flavored with rosemary, sencha (green tea) and genmaicha (green tea with brown rice); the other with toasted almonds and a rich caramel sauce. Both are exceptional, refreshing and invigorating.
There’s also a seasonal special, which is currently sweet corn. The finely crushed ice cream is drizzled with a soup-style sweet-and-salty sauce, topped with additional corn kernels, and served with two types of salt – Maldon crystals and a truffle-flavored salt best left alone – plus a pepper mill on the side for extra pizzazz. It works remarkably well and has already established a growing reputation online.
The teas come from Yorozu, a specialty store in Fukuoka City. Additionally, Kobayashi tasked Chef Shinya Otsuchihashi of Craftale in Nakameguro to develop an original lemon tart (which is not currently served due to the state of emergency).
Currently, Kon only allows three groups of guests at a time in its beautifully furnished lounges. Reservations for on-site dining and take-out are best made through its online reservation service, although walk-in tours are sometimes possible on weekdays.
Meanwhile, until the end of August, Kon is working with Blue Bottle Coffee to deliver kakigōri – flavored coffee, of course – to chain stores in Yokohama, Kyoto, Aoyama and Roppongi.
Nishihara 1-14-13, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 151-0066; kon-kon.jp; open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. closed Mon & Tue (opening days and hours subject to change due to COVID-19); kakigōri from 1980, set kakigōri (with konnyaku sushi) from 2640; konnyaku sushi from 1,360; take out available; nearest Hatagaya station; non-smoker; major cards, electronic money only; a little english spoken
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