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Bite the bullet train and head to Japan

Instead of lazing by the Med, Jay Rayner decided to take his family to Japan. It wasn’t an entirely selfless act … food played a major part, naturally

Getting to eat the good stuff in Tokyo can be a challenge. The problem isn’t finding the right places. The concierge team at the city’s hotels work harder than most making restaurant reservations, and ours at the Mandarin Oriental is no exception. They have sent us to a bustling, wood-lined izakaya, or food pub, down a side street in the city’s Akasaka district. Here, smoke pirouettes from the grills in the open kitchens, the beer, like the air conditioning, is beautifully chilled and the tables are crowded with locals.

The problem is that the place is so very local, so very Tokyo, that quite reasonably no one here speaks English, and we speak no Japanese apart from the good manners of “hello” and “thank you”. Or so we think. Suddenly our 18-year-old son, Eddie, is sorting the order. He can do numbers and a few other phrases, enough to get an omakase request – roughly, the chef’s choice – under way. We are served blocks of silken tofu under umami-rich tangles of dried fish, plump, gossamer-skinned gyoza and tempura-ed fritters of sweetcorn. Thanks in part to Eddie, we do eat the good stuff.

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