Food without memory is just digestion

Saturday, 22 November 2008

An Eater's View - Michelin Tokyo 2009

As you have probably noticed, Gentle Reader, I have been buried deep in the 2009 Guide. There are surprises, to be sure, as well as omissions and exaggerations. What can we humble diners learn from the "book"?

Suffer me to get the trivial out of the way early. Yes, the Tokyo guide is the only one in the world with a symbol to inform we namban that our shoes will need to be removed. And, yes, it is also the only one with a symbol indicating a "interesting sake list". For clarity's sake: the 2009 Guide ratings were compiled by a "home-grown" specialist team which is overwhelmingly Japanese. There is only 1 foreigner - so the shrieks of sarcastic pooh-poohing that accompanied last year's Guide (how could foreigners judge Japanese restaurants?) are no longer even worth noting.

Your Humble Correspondent was delighted to see more "new" restaurants than "classic" Tokyo fine dining establishments. Why? Above all, I believe that the classics have monopolized the Tokyo dining scene for far too long and have grown fat and lazy. Chez Matsuo is probably the only one that still excites and satisfies, but the others seem more focused on kata than cuisine.

But just as importantly, it signifies that the rating team is not overwhelmed by reputation and rightly focused on performance. Some observations:
  • Recognizing Monna Lisa in Ebisu is appropriate and measured.
  • Gordon Ramsay is probably relieved, and perhaps lucky.
  • Edition Koji Shimomura must have been having a good night (or series of nights actually) because it was only worth 1 star the night Your Humble Correspondent fell into good company there.
  • Joel Robuchon now has 7 stars in Tokyo, which may mean he is casting too bright a light.
  • La Bourguignon is destined for higher things, although I fear that may mean new premises.
  • Piatto Suzuki maintained its single star, which is good news for people looking for reservations ... another star, though thoroughly deserved, would have meant much more difficulty.
  • Twenty One at the Tokyo Shinjuku Hilton - closed under unfortunate circumstances and therefore losing its stars - has re-opened as La Pergolese inspired by Stefan Gaborieau. Look for a starry future.
  • The omission of Chikara Yamada is inexplicable.
  • Alain Ducasse must have been devastated when Benoit closed after a real estate debacle, but his other restaurants fared well.
  • Tatsuji Aso seems to be roaring ahead with 2 stars for Ristorante Aso and another 2 for Argento Aso. Pity it's all bound up in the 6 star Hiramatsu Group! Which, with everything from 2 stars to Cafe des pres, seems a little confused.
  • The Mandarin Oriental has 3 restaurants each with 1 star - Tapas Molecular Bar, Sense, and Signature. Guess where I'll be staying if I ever need a hotel!

Strange though it is to relate, I forbear from debate on the Japanese restaurants. That would bring out the more xenophobic comments (like the criticism of the 2008 Guide). But I would point out that Japanese restaurants make up about 60% of the stars, which is only fitting.

The surprise, Gentle Reader, is that the remaining 40% represents a western food tradition in Japan of only a little more than 100 years, and that so many contemporary western restaurants made the grade. All of which bodes well for we Tokyo (or Tokyo-bound) foodies.

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