Casual Shojin Ryori in Tokyo
Shojin Ryori, or shojin cuisine, is the form of Buddhist cuisine that is popular with the vegetarian/vegan foreigner crowd here in Japan. Traditionally the food that Buddhist monks make for themselves in their temples, there are only a handful of restaurants in Tokyo that serve this cuisine. However, these very traditional restaurants are quite expensive, close early, and have only private rooms with the food cooked in the kitchen and brought to you later. Also, few have English menus.
Enter Sougo, a new restaurant in Roppongi opening today (2015/2/23). The concept is simple: casual shogin. Sougo was created by chef Daisuke Nomura, who earned two Michelin stars as the executive chef the shogin restaurant Daigo (very expensive). Nomura's wish was to serve the same high quality shojin fare in a more laid-back environment, and also to be foreigner friendly.
The main difference with traditional shojin restaurants is apparent as soon as you walk in and are greeted by the long counter where the chefs display their skills right in front of you. Common in sushi and other restaurants, it's surprising that this open kitchen / counter service has never before been done with shogin.
The menu is seasonal and items vary by the day, so the traditional prix fixe course style remains. However, most shogin restaurants will run 20,000 - 30,000 JPY per person, but here you can choose from three reasonable courses, 6,000, 8,000, and 10,000 JPY.
Next to the food counter is a bar where the bartender serves beer and cocktails to go along with the more traditional sake menu. Sougo is open until 5am, and from 11pm becomes a bar where you can also order food a la carte.
The back of the restaurant even features a separate kitchen space that will be used as a cooking school in English that will teach about shojin cooking techniques.
The Roppongi location, casual environment, reasonable menu, and late hours are sure to bring in a varied crowd and showcase shojin ryori to a wider selection of customer.
*Please note that Sougo (nor the predecessor Daigo) are not vegan. Speaking with Nomura, shojin ryori came from a dislike of the mess of killing animals, and not necessarily from a moral ban on the practice. As such, egg and bonito dashi soup stock are used in some items. If you are a hardcore vegan, let them know when you make the reservation and they'll try to accommodate as much as possible.