Tokyo is an electric, vast metropolis, and finding its best hotels, restaurants, and bars is an intimidating feat—even for the most savvy travelers. But if anyone knows how to spot the essentials, it’s a person whose passion (and life’s work) is top-tier hospitality—a person like Azwin Ferdauz, executive manager of service and quality at the five-star Conrad Tokyo. Known affectionately as Ari, Ferdauz has devoted his career to the experience of travel: after a 15-year stint as a cabin crew attendant for two Asian airlines, he came to the Hilton brand in 2011 and quickly rose through the ranks for his natural talent and dedication. (A telling example of this: he already speaks seven languages and is now learning Japanese Shuwa, sign language, to better communicate with all guests.) Based in Tokyo since starting at the Conrad in 2014, it's no surprise Ferdauz has his finger on the pulse of the city's very best offerings—or that he’d share them with DEPARTURES readers so readily. But we’re certainly glad he has.
What neighborhood do you live in in Tokyo, and how long have you lived there? I live in Akasaka, known as, "Red Slope" in Japanese. It is divided into two main areas of the residential and commercial district of Minato in Central Tokyo. I have spent three years now in Akasaka since I moved from Osaka in 2014.
Where would you put up friends visiting town? Being involved in hotels, you receive great privileges and benefits on stays. Most of the time, I put my friends at the Conrad Tokyo at a favorable rate (1-9-1 Higashi-Shinbashi, Minato-ku; 81-3/6388-8000; conradhotels3.hilton.com).
Where is the best place to find Tokyo's signature dish? If there is one signature dish that comes to mind it would be Monjyayaki, a Japanese pan-fried batter. It’s available at Monjya Street in Tsukishima.
What is your favorite restaurant to take visitors? Sushi Shimon in Nihombashi (2-2-1 Muromachi, Nihonbashi, Chuo-ku; 81-3/3243-0050; seamon-nihonbashi.jp), followed by a seasonal Japanese ice cream at Gelateria Marghera in Azabu Juban (2-5-1 Azabu Juban, Minato-ku; 81-3/5772-3283; gelateriamarghera.jp).
Where can you find the best cocktails? Gen Yamamoto at Azabu Juban (1-6-4 Azabu-Juban, Minato-ku; 81-3/6434-0652; genyamamoto.jp). He mixes seasonal Japanese vegetables and fruits in the local sake from all around Japan. It’s more of an experience than a mere cocktail.
The best beer list? There is this nice beer bar in Akasaka called Sansa (2-20-19 Akasaka, Minato-ku; 81-3/3583-4200; beersansa.info). I love the minimalist design and the great selection of beer.
The best wine list? Restaurant Collage at the Conrad Tokyo. It’s not just a great wine list: it’s run by Japan’s top sommeliers, headed by Mr. Mori, currently rank No. 1 in Japan and No. 8 in the world.
Where would you choose to splurge on a night out? A top sushi bar, like Sukiyabashi Jiro (2-15 Ginza 4-chome, Chuo-ku; 81-3/3535-3600; sushi-jiro.jp). (Jiro takes reservation three months prior to the date.) The most important part of a sushi is the rice, or "shari," and every sushi restaurant offers a different flavor. Sushi Shimon is a great alternative.
What is your go-to after-hours bar? These Bar is a conceptual "library" bar (2-15-12 Nishi-Azabu, Minato-ku; 81-3/5466 7331; these-jp.com). It’s located in the back hidden alleys of Azabu Juban. It is not a famous bar that attracts crowds but a very chic, discreet spot with the ultimate serenity of a cool bar. You get a basket of seasonal fruits and spices and herbs and make your own cocktail out of those. The Wall in Aoyama is a cool bar in town that attracts the rich and famous of Tokyo (5-4-30 Minamiaoyama, Minato-Ku; 81-3/5774-1311; cnac.jp). It is also a conceptual "garden" bar that has a wall of living plants.
What’s the best way to spend a Saturday afternoon in town? Escape the weekend bustle in Tokyo and travel to Kamakura, an ancient town (1200 A.D.) located a one-hour train ride from Tokyo. It used to host the samurai government and is very historical with many temples to visit amidst the beautiful Japanese gardens from the old days. My favorite highlights are the Bamboo Temple and a local train ride called Enoden that takes you from Enoshima to Kamakura. It has a breathtaking view.
What is your Sunday morning routine in your neighborhood? After breakfast at home, I will take a walk to Aoyama or Azabu Juban—a very chic area with so many things to offer.
Where is the best brunch? I am not into brunch, but the two best places I have been with friends are Bill’s in Omotesando (4-30-3 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku; 81-3/5772-1133; bills-jp.net) and Eggcelent in Roponggi (6-4-1, Roppongi, MInato-Ku; 81-3/3423-0089; eggcellent.co.jp).
Where do you go for the perfect cup of coffee? As I only drink tea, I normally go to Ura Sando Garden Café (4-15-2 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku; urasando-garden.jp). There are a few cafés in this area and you’re able to eat the used tealeaf with bonito.
What’s your favorite view in town (that tourists might not know about)? Taking the monorail (Yurikamome Line) at night to Odaiba and looking at the Tokyo Skyline from the bay side.
What’s your favorite path or trail to follow on a walk? The small back alleys of Omotesando. You can find many hair salons, restaurants, and local Japanese designer clothing. Every building has its own character, each different from the other. Beautiful. Get your self lost as you stroll deeper into the alleys. Every lane is an attraction itself.
What are your favorite offbeat cultural attractions? Ganguro Café in Harajuku, in Shibuya (26-9, Udagawa-cho, Shibuya-ku; ganguro.jugemcart.com). It is basically a normal cafe that serves food and drinks by Gyaru Girls, but since it is located in Harajuku, they list a makeup session on their menu so their guest can take part and blend in. It is a "one time is enough" visit, and for those who opt to have their makeup done, it will certainly be a hit on their Instagram or Twitter page.
What’s your favorite shop or boutique? United Arrows in Yurakucho (2-5-1 Yuraku-cho, Chiyoda-ku; 81-3/5220-4525; united-arrows.co.jp) for very trendy Japanese fashion and Tokyu Hands—an interesting shop where practically everything in it has a touch of Japanese design (multiple locations; tokyu-hands.co.jp).
What’s the ultimate souvenir from your town—something you can only get there? Tokyo Banana cookies—and of course our exquisite Conrad Tokyo bears that comes in for kimono designs representing each of the four seasons.
What’s the best kept-local secret? To have drinks at izakaya (a standing bar) with Japanese salary-men (Japanese workaholics) at night in the lost little alleys of Shimbashi. They are very friendly to foreigners, although English is not well spoken. The beer helps with this.