A chef opened a tiny dessert spot in Tokyo that sells shaved ice for $18 a bowl. I know it's a massive markup, and I'd still pay for it again.

  • Azuki to Kouri, a shaved ice dessert shop in Tokyo, has 9 seats and is always fully booked.

  • It was opened by pastry chef Miho Horio, who previously worked at a Michelin-starred French restaurant.

  • On a recent trip to Tokyo, Tammy Kwan was determined to try the $18 signature bowl, even if she had to go alone.

It was 8:55 p.m., a week before my trip to Tokyo and I was hovering over my laptop with a steady hand on the mouse. The website I was on clearly stated: "Reservations may be booked from 9 p.m., 7 days in advance at the earliest."

A few months earlier, a fellow foodie friend's praise of Azuki to Kouri, a dessert shop in Tokyo, made me determined to visit. We had planned to spend a few days touring the capital before our ski trip in Niseko in January, so I added a visit to the restaurant, known for its kakigōri — or Japanese shaved ice — to our itinerary.

I was determined to get a seat and had already told my husband I might only be able to nail one, which is what ended up happening.

Located in the Yoyogi neighborhood of Shibuya, the dessert restaurant was opened by pastry chef Miho Horio at the beginning of 2022. Horio is best known for her experience as the pastry chef at Tokyo's two-Michelin-starred French restaurant Florilège.

There are only seven seats along her sleek dessert counter — nine, if you count the high-top in the corner with two chairs.

Dining counter and kitchen at Azuki to Kouri in Tokyo
Azuki to Kouri dessert counterAzuki to Kouri

I paid 3,000 Yen, or $20, to secure my reservation

As I walked through the sliding door and into the gray-scale dining room, I immediately got a whiff of something sweet and slightly burnt. I glanced around the open kitchen and saw one of the pastry chefs flame-torching a meringue topping.

The staff greeted me warmly and asked for my reservation. I was then promptly signaled to sit down. My front and center seat gave me a great view of all the intricate preparation and French cooking techniques being used to create the bowls of shaved ice.

A view of the chefs preparing desserts at Azuki to Kouri  in Tokyo
A front and center view of the dessert shopTammy Kwan

Azuki to Kouri is known for its rotating daily menus and use of seasonal ingredients. The shaved ice features unique textures, temperatures, and toppings. The desserts are on the pricier end and range from 2,750 to 2,900 Yen, or $18 to $20.

Traditional kakigōri shops in Japan often sell bowls for less than $3, while prices for artisanal kakigōri can go up to $10.

The menu is always changing and rotating, with a focus on seasonality

On the day of my visit in mid-January, the menu options included its signature azuki (red bean) and meringue, apple and chiboust (a light pastry cream with meringue), chocolate and raspberry, Japanese mandarin orange, white mushroom, and a strawberries-and-cream special for the shop's second anniversary. French toast was also available in two flavors, azuki and pear, as well as a soup of the day: burdock (a root vegetable).

I took out my phone to look through the restaurant's immaculately curated Instagram feed, which featured stunning, professionally taken visuals of Chef Miho's creations.

Azuki and Meringue kakigori (shaved ice) c. Azuki to Kouri.jpg
The azuki and meringue kakigori photo on Instagram looks like a piece of art.Azuki to Kouri

I decided to go with the signature red bean and meringue flavor.

A few other customers ordered just before I did, so I patiently waited for my shaved ice to be prepared. There were only two chefs preparing the desserts, and I watched them take their time so every order was presented perfectly.

Pastry chef Miho Horio preparing a Japanese shaved ice dessert at her restaurant  in Tokyo.
Chef Miho Horio opened Azuki to Kouri at the beginning of 2022.Tammy Kwan

People were lining up to eat shaved ice in the middle of winter

It makes sense for shaved ice to be popular during Tokyo's hot summer months, but as I found myself seated inside one of the most aesthetic dessert bars I've ever visited, I had a sense I was about to taste something that was well worth the chilly winter visit. The temperature outside was hovering around 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

When my order arrived, I didn't know where to start. After snapping some quick photos and videos, I dug in. As the first bite hit my palate, my mouth just felt cold. But then, I started to taste the thinly shaved ice with the sweet red beans, fresh cream, and milk syrup. While I don't usually gravitate toward red beans, this creamy combination was sweet and superior.

If I hadn't just had lunch I would have ordered a second bowl

In my next bite, I indulged in some chewy mochi paste and crunchy, baked meringue. Each mouthful became more addictive than the previous — I was hooked and finally understood the craze. If I had more stomach space, I would've tried to order another flavor, just like the customer next to me.

Azuki and Meringue kakigori
The writer slowly at the signature shaved ice.Tammy Kwan

There is a limit of three guests per reservation, which is understandable due to the establishment's tiny real-estate footprint. I noticed that most of the other diners on that day were also female and visiting on their own.

There was something therapeutic about enjoying a well-crafted dessert on my own. I didn't need to worry about sharing or when to leave. However, in this case, there is a 40-minute dining limit.

I would definitely come back again

I have eaten my fair share of shaved ice around the world. In addition to kakigōri in Japan, I'm a fan of bingsu (milk-based Korean shaved ice) in Korea and ice kachang (shaved ice with mixed toppings) in Singapore.

But the creations at Azuki to Kouri are an entirely different experience. Not just because I tasted something that was both visually appealing and delicious but also because it felt like I was watching edible art being made with clear-cut precision.

By the end of my visit, my appetite and taste buds were beyond satisfied. Between my wagyu beef sukiyaki for lunch followed by this all-star shaved ice for an afternoon dessert, I didn't have to eat until the next day.

Read the original article on Business Insider