There is something about the thought of finding a place to dine around the Omotesando area that has always caused a headache. Harajuku is for the kids, and with Omotesando dori’s fashionable emporiums attracting a blend of tourists and serious Japanese shoppers, the options are a confusing blend of crowd-pleasing street eats and fancy-pants, pricey fair.
So it’s always nice to find a decent izakaya/tapas-style establishment to steer a crowd to when you find yourself the head of a party in the area. Aoyama Wine Hall, a hop, skip and a jump from the Omotesando Station’s B2 exit use to play that function, with low-priced wine and Spanish inspired plates, till it mysteriously closed a year or so ago. But no worries, there’s a new spot in fashion town: Taking over Aoyama Wine Hall’s abandoned location, W Omotesando — The Cellar Grill has filled in the void in cheap and cheerful options.
The Cellar Grill is run by the same people behind the popular Fummy’s Grill and Cardenas in Ebisu, so you know they know how to put together a winning formula for dinning. At the new location, the focus is on a great wine list that generously tilts toward the reasonable end of the scale and a menu of tasty dishes that encourages you to select a variety.
But don’t let the wine and the apparently Western dish names deceive you, much like Les Vinum, reviewed in The Weekender back in November of last year, in reality Cellar Grill is an izakaya dressed up in different clothing. The menu is designed for relaxed pace of ordering, picking, drinking and chatting, and then re-ordering, more picking, drinking and chatting. We started with the daily special, carpaccio of spiny red gurnard rockfish (hobo in Japanese) in olive oil with a mix of herbs, and a misnamed turnip salad with lemon, that turned out to be carrot (not a problem, after a certain point dinning overseas, you should get use to menu roulette — order this, get that — as it exposes you to dishes beyond your vocabulary or culinary comfort zone … not to say that carrots our beyond our comfort zone).
This was followed by another set of specials of the day, grilled hanger steak, and Japanese mustard spinach (komatsuna) cooked in a small metal casserole dish. The steak was tender and tasty, presented on a wooden cutting board. The menu specializes in similarly grilled meats, including other cuts of beef, duck, chicken and lamb, as well as a selection of sausages and pates.
To compliment our selections, we asked sommelier and manager Tsuyoshi Takeuchi to recommend a bottle, and he suggested we go with a Pinot Noir. We settled on a Louis Jadot Bourgogne 2006 at ¥3,000, an unfussy pinot that has all the characteristics you expect in that grape and was eminently drinkable.
The Cellar Grill actually acts as a retail wine shop as well, and they note that all the prices on their wine list are retail. To enjoy any of the bottles with dinner, you only add a ¥600 corkage fee. The list is weighted heavily towards France and America, but features wines from around the world and hits the low end at with bottles between ¥900-¥1,300 from Chile, Spain and Italy. Oddly, all wines are served in stemless glasses, but for an extra ¥200, you can request Riedel Bordeaux or Burgundy glasses.
Where there’s wine, there must be cheese, so we rounded out the meal with three selections from the cheese menu: a hard, tangy Comté, a dense, herby Sainte Maure goat cheese, and a creamy Brie. Served up with raisins on a stem and sliced figs, it was the proper finish to a great meal, and final reason to return to a location that is certain to quickly become popular for those looking for a casual but satisfying spot in Omotesando. (Norman Breakes)
W Omotesando — The Cellar Grill
Ayoama Parks Bldg B1F
Lunch: 11:30 am-3 pm
Dinner: 5:30-12 midnight