For an old-school yakitori experience in the heart of Tokyo, eat some grilled chicken with the regulars at Shibuya’s Morimoto.
Aigamo and gonbo skewers on a plate. Read on to find out more. - image © Florentyna Leow
Yakitori is a solid choice for dinner, whether you're dining solo or with a group of friends. Restaurants serving yakitori abound in the big city, but for a casual meal in a lively restaurant - and the possibility of making some new friends - try popping in to Morimoto in Shibuya for dinner. It’s a corner restaurant barely 300m away from the famous Hachiko statue, just under Shibuya Mark City.
The restaurant is below a traditional medicine shop. - image © Florentyna Leow
Morimoto has been operating for the last few decades, and it’s a favorite with both locals and travelers. On my last visit, there were mainly salarymen enjoying dinner after work. It’s a tight space, and they’re not shy about squeezing you in with other patrons at this place. Signs on the restaurant walls tell you not to linger too long without ordering, out of consideration to other guests. This place can get busy. We lucked out and were seated immediately, but there can be a small queue at the door. Nevertheless, because of the signs on the wall, people are quite considerate and will finish their meal if they see you waiting in line. Come in small groups whenever possible.
You’ll make friends pretty quickly in a place like this. - image © Florentyna Leow
If you’re at the counter, you’ll find yourself rubbing shoulders with the diners next to you; if you’re at a table, you might find yourself seated with other strangers. So it was that my colleague and I found ourselves sharing a table with two older salarymen, both Tokyo transplants from Kyushu. Over conversation, it transpired that one of them had been eating at Morimoto for the last 40 years, and had been coming here with his colleague for the last decade. What better recommendation for this place than from a regular? They even shared a little of their chicken sashimi with us - raw white mean, lean and clean-tasting.
Two drinking buddies after work. - image © Florentyna Leow
It was a very Tokyo kind of experience, chatting with regulars who tell you about all manner of things. For instance, we learned from him that at a sushi place, the customers will refer to the soy sauce as “shoyu,” but those working behind the counter will ask if you’d like some “murasaki.” The smoking environment does also add to the atmosphere, but can be challenging for those who don’t like smoking restaurants - the old-school feel definitely comes with a price.
The prices listed here are before the 8% sales tax - image © Florentyna Leow
Unlike many restaurants in Japan with English menus, Morimoto’s English menu sounds like they paid someone who knows about food to translate it. This makes a significant difference in yakitori places because some parts of the bird they serve are so specific - e.g. gonbo, which is the cartilage just below the tail of the chicken - that inadequate translations don’t fully prepare you for what you’re going to eat.
It is hard to go wrong with yakitori, generally speaking. The usual cuts such as thigh meat and gizzard will be good to eat. In some restaurants, they might ask if you would like the skewers salt or tare-grilled. I tend to leave it up to them to decide. They know best, after all.
A simple tsukune skewer. - image © Florentyna Leow
To begin with, tsukune. Tsukune is basically a meatball on a skewer, and it will look and taste different at every yakitori restaurant depending on the mix of chicken parts and seasonings they use. At most places it’s brushed with tare (a sweet-salty marinade) and served with a whole, raw egg yolk for dipping. At Morimoto, they’ve served it lightly salted and otherwise unadorned. You can tell that the chicken has been hand-chopped, with little bits of cartilage mixed in for textural interest. This is my preferred style of tsukune. Some places use only thigh meat, which can leave it a bit too smooth for my liking.
The aigamo skewer, chunks of duck interspersed with negi scallions, was forgettable. Gonbo was fun to eat - a combination of the lightly crunchy cartilage and toothsome fat.
Your heart on a plate, not your shoulder. - image © Florentyna Leow
I love chicken hearts. They’re pure muscle, lean and bouncy.
The stems are hidden by a small showering of bonito flakes. - image © Florentyna Leow
If you’re drinking, these are a great little otsumami or beer snack to order - marinated wasabi stems, or wasabi kuki. It’s not on the menu, but it is written on a sign on the wall and they have a limited number of portions each day. We managed to snag the last portion! The stems are not at all spicy, but are sweet and soy-salty, pairing fabulously with alcohol.
Vegetarian-friendly! - image © Florentyna Leow
I ordered some shiitake mushrooms, quail eggs, and gingko nuts in an attempt to feel a little healthier.
God, I love raw liver. - image © Florentyna Leow
Morimoto also serves raw chicken - white meat, gizzard and liver. I ordered a plate of raw chicken liver, which arrived thusly, accompanied by a scattering of chopped scallions, pickled ginger, wasabi, and sudachi lime. This is not for the faint-hearted, or indeed the pregnant, or very young or old - or if you have any fears at all of salmonella poisoning. You’ve been warned! Japan is the only country in the world I regularly trust not to kill me with raw chicken. Typically, liver can have an overpowering iron taste, but here it was delicate. Texturally, it was tender without and creamy within; sweet, especially with a squeeze of sudachi, and perfect dragged through some soy sauce. It was definitely one of the standout dishes, and I highly recommend it for the adventurous.
Sometimes I wonder how big the chickens are for the livers to be this size. - image © Florentyna Leow
To finish, a skewer of grilled liver. This was a different beast to the raw liver, of course - it tastes much richer when liberally brushed with tare and grilled.
When you’re done with your skewers, stick them in the container at the table. - image © Florentyna Leow
The yakitori here is generally decent, but I like Morimoto much more for its old-school, convivial atmosphere. Dining here is a very - for lack of a better word - Tokyo kind of experience (this includes the indoor smoking), and if you luck out with your dining companions, you might even make some new friends!
For more Tokyo yakitori choices, see our Best Yakitori in Tokyo page.
Name in Japanese:
1F Hamanoue Building, 2-7-4 Dogenzaka, Shibuya Ward, Tokyo
5:00PM - 11:00PM (10:00PM L.O) (Mon - Fri)
4:30PM - 11:00PM (10:00PM L.O) (Saturday)
Shibuya Station (JR)
:: Read customer reviews of Morimoto on TripAdvisor
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