Japan’s rich culinary tradition has caught the world by storm, and the number of Michelin-starred restaurants serving Japanese cuisine will leave an epicure spoilt for choice, no matter where they are in the world.
But for the purists, only the land of the rising sun will do for an undiluted experience of the country’s cuisine, and it’s a testament to Japanese excellence that bustling Tokyo is home to the most Michelin Star eats for the 8th year in a row. To spare you the headache of selecting (and possibly booking) a place to eat in Tokyo, we’ve shortlisted some of the finest restaurants on offer, and our first five picks aren’t all about sushi and teppanyaki either.
You have to work hard to find the Esaki. Tucked away in a nondescript basement in Aoyama, locating this gem might even be a challenge for your taxi driver, but it’s a treasure hunt worth completing.
Chef Shintaro Esaki’s modern-style cuisine is the star here, and the ultra minimalist decor does nothing to distract you from the master’s work. The menu is somewhat different from what you will find in an international Japanese restaurant, and even the well-traveled epicure will be surprised by some of the items (provided they’ve got a grasp of Japanese of course).
Environmentalists may want to stay clear from delicacies such as the endangered Kinki fish (idiot fish), which if not on your plate, can live to 100 years of age. Rest assured that other menu items are decidedly less contentious.
Standouts include the creamy rich salmon, which is boneless and served with black rice and a tempura of fatsia sprouts, while the organic vegetables sing with flavor in dishes such as the sazae and asparagus in liver sauce and a mushroom-based miso soup.
Sukiyabashi Jiro Ginza
We advise that you ask a fluent Japanese speaker book a table at the most high-end Sushi restaurants, and this advice is especially true at the Sukiyabashi Jiro Ginza. Traditional to the core, service at this establishment may be cold towards foreigners and there have even been reports of non-Japanese being refused reservations… unless you are Barack Obama of course.
Make things easy on yourself and be accompanied by a native Japanese speaker and bask in the privilege of enjoying the sushi of the 86-year-old Riyokan (master), Jiro Ono, whose work is practically cannon and immortalised in a documentary film. Precise, flavorsome and finely balanced, the sushi here is the result of decades of practice, and is- without a doubt- one of the best in the world.
Chef Takashi Saito’s movements are surgical and delicate, the result of a well-practiced routine. There’s no doubt about it: this is a master at the peak of his craft, and the fact that he’s only in his early 40’s is quite humbling.
The Saito is considered by Joel Robuchon as being the best sushi bar in the world, and if the multi Michelin-starred man says so, who are we to differ. If you’ve got any doubt though, give the juicy Kuruma Ebi a try and lay that inner naysayer to rest. To top it all off, Saito-San’s English is good enough to make you feel right at home with some friendly conversation and he’s able to explain what’s in your plate, so there’s no need to perform a leap of faith with every bite.
Our only regret is the new address. We really loved the fact that the world’s best sushi was tucked away on a multi level car park, but as long as the sushi is this good, you can count us as regulars.
Joel Robuchon Ebisu
The chef with the most Michelin Stars in Tokyo deserves a spot in our humble list. In a radical departure from most restaurants in this article, Joel Robuchon’s Ebisu is easy to find, unless you’ve got trouble locating an 18th century French chateau in the middle of bustling Tokyo that is… Though the decor is fantastic (Swarovski crystal lighting, grand staircases…) and the building grandiose in a city starved for space, the cuisine here remains the star.
No need to be lost in translation in this foreigner-friendly restaurant as menus are printed in reassuring French and English, and are adapted for the Western palate. If available, give the quail a try (always worth it in a Robuchon restaurant), and their fusion adaption of Wagyu beef will have you dreaming of your next booking before you even leave the table.
Chef Shuzo Kishida’s attention to detail borders on the obsessive compulsive, and that’s a very good thing indeed.
The restaurant refuses to use leftover ingredients, and its menu is decided every morning based on what’s available on the market- and on the chef’s mind- a somewhat draconian approach that guarantees the best experience for guests.
Once a Sous Chef at the Michelin-starred L’Astrance in Paris, Kichida now applies his training to create Japanese-influenced nouvelle cuisine, which regularly fills his 25-seater restaurant. But be warned: the ephemeral nature of the menu means that you do not get to choose your dish, and since the staff aim to surprise and have an eye for regulars, don’t cry out in indignation if your neighbor’s plate looks a little tastier than yours.