Before we’ve even looked at the paella menu, which is really what we came here for, we’re intrigued by Lubina’s cocktail menu, and promptly find ourselves sipping on a “Bamboo.” This dry, elegant drink is a not-too-sweet blend of vermouth, dry sherry, herbal bitters, and the oil from orange peel.
It was created – as are all the cocktails here – in collaboration with a bar consultant flown in especially from San Francisco. As a result, the cocktails are original, and the syrups and bitters are all made on site. From our very first sip, it’s clear that this kind of attention to detail is what will set this Spanish-inspired restaurant apart from plenty of other new Tokyo restaurants.
Officially opened on March 29 by restaurateur Tomoyoshi Sen, Lubina can be found on the 2nd floor of the new Tokyo Midtown Hibiya department store, with its terrace overlooking pretty Hibiya Park. Sen, who was born in Japan and went to high school and university in America before returning to Tokyo at age 23, owns a range of other restaurants and bars in Tokyo, although this is the first time he has turned his attention to Spanish food. He is particularly fond of Valencian paella, which means paella purists will relish the ingredients and cooking techniques employed by Lubina chefs.
The paella we try is served in a wide pan, with a thin layer of al dente rice, gently baked but still perfectly tender and juicy just under the crunchy top layer, and featuring snails, rabbit, ice plant, and edible flowers. It’s beautiful to look at, and pairs perfectly with our Bamboo cocktail.
Aside from offering seven or eight different kinds of paella on any given day, Lubina serves up a host of tapas dishes such as gazpacho (non-spicy, with a hint of strawberry) and salmon tartar. The idea, says Sen, is to marry Spanish and Japanese dining cultures since both are familiar with ordering small dishes of food to share. For dessert we tuck into a sweet rice pudding and a very unique banana pancake that includes Emmental cheese and a dollop of yogurt ice cream.
The atmosphere at Lubina is also unique, with Sen having eschewed the stereotypical Spanish decor and choosing instead to go for something a little more classic and retro. Inspired by 60s and 70s nautical decor, the area near the bar is nicknamed “the deck,” and features wood and rope accents. A cabinet with leather backdrop showcases antique fishing rods, and from the ceiling hang glass globes that are reminiscent of squid fishing lights.
On one side of the restaurant, there’s a large painting of a fish, which some might recognize as a lubina, part of the seabass family. But look a little closer and you might begin to wonder which type of lubina it is. When we question Sen about it, he tells us he asked the artist to combine the traits of Spanish and Japanese lubina, coming up with an image of a fish that effectively doesn’t exist. Something entirely new. We think he’s got a knack for that.
For Lubina map and contact details, see our Concierge listing.