Every day, Yuki Motokura records the temperature and the humidity, and checks in on his pizza dough. He adjusts the flour, water and salt in minute increments, and logs the results with precision.
“Even if the data is the same, it might not come out the same,” Motokura says. “Pizza is just that difficult.”
While there’s no failsafe trick, he says he’s developed a kind of sense for how the dough might behave during his years of experience.
“I lift the lid on the fermenting dough and I have a kind of discussion with it,” he explains. “‘What shall we do today?’”
That’s not the only pizza discussion taking place. Tokyo’s pizza scene has built a global reputation and word went round fast when Motokura launched Pizza Marumo in December 2022. Motokura cut his teeth at renowned Tokyo pizzeria Savoy, working as store manager for three years and earning himself many loyal customers, excited to try a new venture of his own.
Pizza Marumo is nestled in the fashionable neighborhood of Ebisu, and more than matches its surroundings. Sitting comfortably on a corner plot, windows flood the space with natural light during the day, showcasing the central marble counter and wood-fired pizza oven. At night, however, it transforms into a cozier and intimate spot for dinner.
It took three months to realize this well-curated space, making adjustments to align Motokura’s vision and the budget. “I absolutely wouldn’t compromise on the marble counter and the pizza oven,” Motokura says with a smile.
These two elements define the concept of the restaurant. The name “Marumo” comes from the Japanese word marui meaning “round” or “circle.” This reflects Motokura’s underlying philosophy of “hito no wa” or “the circle of people,” which he explains as the importance of building human relationships and connections.
The marble counter invites a casual conversation between staff and customers. It encircles the kitchen as if it were on a stage. In the center, of course, is the wood-fired pizza oven, coated in metal circle designs that overlap. These represent how circles of people also overlap, giving rise to new connections, Motokura explains.
The pizza oven is a custom-order from a local company established in 1921 that originally made bathtubs before broadening its business. It’s now renowned as one of the best pizza oven makers in Tokyo.
“I realized my dream to work with this manufacturer. I was really excited and we had many meetings to discuss the design,” Motokura explains.
The menu is equally carefully designed, divided into tomato-based, cheese-based, cream-based and even mayonnaise-based pizzas – a nod to Japanese tastes.
The choice is wide, with all options painfully tempting. On our first visit, we head for dinner as a group, like a pack of wild animals hoping to pray on as many pizzas as we can. There are also appetizers, however, and these stand their ground, acting as more than a decoy. There’s delicious pizza dough focaccia with hummus, and cauliflower beautifully roasted in the oven. With one bite, we vow to always trust a chef who can make cauliflower exciting without drowning it in cheese.
We then set about working through the classics – margherita and marinara – both expertly executed, and available as a half-and-half for those vulnerable to decision crises. The marinara – perhaps sometimes snubbed by cheese-lovers – dazzles with morsels of garlic, caramel-sweet, flecked with the perfect amount of oregano.
Next we tackle “Red Hot Chilli” a tomato, mozzarella, nduja, red paprika and spicy salami pizza, lifted by complex herbal notes of shiso. We follow this with “Lamb & Cheese,” which features an unusual combination of stewed lamb, a rarity in Japan, with mozzarella, pecorino and green beans.
The star, perhaps, is the simple yet striking “Bismarck 2.0” – a margherita with prosciutto and, fittingly, given the name, two eggs. The yolks, perfectly cooked, smoothly coat the prosciutto, making each mouthful one of utter bliss.
For Motokura, however, it’s the cream-based pizzas that offer the clearest window into his past.
At age 16, he trained in kaiseki, traditional Japanese cuisine served as a multi-course meal. However, a love of pasta drew him to train at an Italian restaurant. Later on, when he sampled a mouthful of Savoy’s pizza, he was so struck by its deliciousness that he immediately called the restaurant to apply for a job.
He has married these dual culinary influences to create two original cream-based pizzas. We order the proudly named “Japanese Umami.” It is rich and punchy, featuring dried shiitake mushroom cream sauce, mozzarella, pecorino, mackerel, peppered with the flavors that underlie Japanese cuisine: bonito flakes, konbu, green onion, sesame and soy sauce.
In a relatively rare move for Tokyo pizzerias, Motokura’s menu also offers several vegan pizzas that are greatly appreciated by customers with lactose intolerance.
When we sit down to chat, he tells us, with an element of pride, that a customer with food allergies ate their first pizza at Pizza Marumo just the other day.
Cooking for others is something he has done since a young age. As a child, his mother had to go to work early, leaving the ten-year-old Motokura in charge of cooking breakfast for his younger sisters.
He knew then that he greatly enjoyed it. His younger self also knew that pizza was a passion.
“You know how kids like to have birthday cake for their birthdays, right? Well for me, it was always birthday pizza,” he laughs. “I truly love pizza.”
It’s our second visit to Pizza Marumo, and we consult with Motokura on our next menu move. We settle on another of his original Japanese cuisine-inspired pizzas – the “PJ.” Clam cream sauce and clams delicately ride the umami-earthiness of smoked mozzarella, which is enhanced by tomatoes and a squeeze of fresh lemon, finished with a lingering kick of Japanese chili pepper.
With just one mouthful, our conversation stops in its tracks. It’s truly a masterpiece, we tell Motokura, who breaks into a triumphant smile.
It would seem that daily data collection and dedication has more than paid off.
Yet Motokura is keen to emphasize that above all he values building good relationships – hito no wa – and pizza are his tools to do so.
“I hope that I can continue making connections with people every day through pizza,” he says.
We have no doubt he will.
Published on March 23, 2023