Tokyo is, apparently, the culinary capital of the world. So much so that it boasts 266 venues that rate at least one Michelin star. That number is even more impressive when one considers that there are only 7 inspectors (all Japanese) and they can only visit a small percentage of Tokyo's 200,000 eating establishments.
But methinks it is time for some kaizen, laddies. One gets the overwhelming impression from the 2011 edition that Tokyo is rather the capital of Japanese cuisine, which it absolutely should be. I'm all for celebrating washoku-arity, but something is amiss and the whiff of a synthesized Japo-Gallic arrogance is in the air.
At the same time, Tokyo is home to a stunning array of non-Japanese restaurants which I fear M. Michelin is ignoring in order to keep sales of the guide at 150K. A nice little earner, I'm sure, but in the view of Your Humble Correspondent sells the Edo dining experience considerably short. Perhaps, Sir, you might enlist even one non-Japanese reviewer so that we can see balance restored.
Here's the list of this year's Michelin 3-stars listed alphabetically:
Araki (Debut) Sushi Tel: 03-3545-0199 Sunlitte Ginza II 1F 5-14-14 Ginza, Chuo-ku
If any sushi restaurant deserves the express elevator straight to the top of the Michelin rankings, then it is surely Araki. In my particular and peculiar opinion, there is more show than sushi - but then again, see the "trencherman" comment to the right of the page!
Esaki Japanese Contemporary Tel: 03-3408-5056 Hills Aoyama B1F, 3-39-9 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku
For a place hidden away in the residential part of Jingu-mae, Esaki gets a lot of well-deserved attention. This kaiseki restaurant focuses on food purity and "safety". Ask for the details of their organic vegetable supplier ... the produce is stunning!
Hamadaya (Rank Up) Japanese Tel: 03-3661-5940 Ningyocho, 3-13-5 Nihonbashi, Chuo-ku
Hadayama is the real deal - a passion for great ingredients, delightful presentation, and an angelic balance of flavors and textures. If you're visiting - or living here and need to impress visitors - you can't go wrong at Hamadaya.
Ishikawa Japanese Tel: 03-5225-0173 3-4 Kagurazaka, Shinjuku-ku
Kagurazaka needs another fine restaurant in the same way that London needs another pub. But if you're in this part of Tokyo, and you're in the mood for both some exploration (it's hard to find) and high-brow kaiseki, then Ishikawa fits the bill. It all seems a little pretentious for Your Humble Correspondent, but there's no doubt the food is first-rate.
Joel Robuchon French Contemporary Tel: 03-5424-1338 Ebisu Garden Place, 1-13-1 Mita, Meguro-ku
One has to question Michelin's definition of "contemporary", but this restaurant would deserve three stars whatever city it chose to grace. Probably the best cheese board on the planet, and more varieties of bread than one can possibly comprehend without reaching for multi-dimensional mathematics. Excellent wine list that doesn't forget older whites (no pun intended). Unfortunately one needs to rob a bank to enjoy the full spectrum of what M. Robuchon has to offer, but it might be worth the gaol sentence if there is time off for good behavior.
Kanda Japanese Tel: 03-5786-0150 3-6-34 Moto-Azabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Your Humble Correspondent's previous Hellhole was in Moto-Azabu, and Kanda was that place that one always wanted to visit but never got around to ... Lack-a-day friends who have visited (but failed to invite) say that the food here is remarkable even for a three-star.
Koju Japanese Tel: 03-6215-9544 8-5-25 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
If you were, God forbid, at a gastronomic short end in Ginza then Koju is restaurant enough to restore your faith in food. Exceptional seasonal produce, with the finesse and delicacy of Japanese cuisine on display here. Chef Toru Okuda is a proudly confident master of his trade.
Quintessence French Contemporary Tel: 03-5791-3715 5-4-7 Shirokanedai, Minato-ku
Not on your Nellie! There is way too much ego and energy on the table at Quintessence to deserve a three star rating. While Chef Shuzo Kishida is still only 36, there is no doubt he can cook. But he can't control an agressive floor team whose poor manners drag down a good restaurant.
7chome Kyoboshi (Rank Up) Tempura Ozio Ginza Bldg 6F, 5-5-9 Ginza, Chuo-ku
Interesting choice by Michelin ... no doubt the best tempura in the world, but 3-stars? For sheer virtuosity and creativity, this is one restaurant you should try if visiting Tokyo. Save you pennies, because it is certainly not cheap. Sakakibara-san does amazing things with batter and bits, but after all it is just a fish-fry. This is one sign that the all-Japanese Michelin inspector team has got things a little out of whack. In Japanese, a little too マニアック (or, the dude's gone mono on us)!.
Sukiyabashi Jiro Honten Sushi Tel: 03-3535-3600 , Tsukamoto Bld. B1F, 2-15 Ginza 4-chome, Chuo-ku
Jiro Ono is 84 years old and he's not going to be hurried by anyone. He says he has one more year at the helm of the best sushi restaurant in the world. The thing to notice here is the quality of the rice, and the intensity of the food - to the eye, to the mouth, to the brain. English speakers are only entertained at the Roppongi venue, so if you don't speak Japanese you need to find a friend... quick. This is seriously the one sushi experience you don't want to miss.
Sushi Mizutani Sushi Tel: 03-3573-5258 Seiwa Silver Building B1F, 8-2-10 Ginza, Chuo-ku
Mizutani-san is very serious about sushi, and you had better be as well if you get along to this fabulous 10 seat temple to fish. The location near Shimbashi station is good, and the price is good value (actually, that's a relative statement because good sushi is never cheap). The art is in the selection of the fish, they say, and there is no better example than Sushi Mizutani.
Sushi Saito Sushi Tel: 03-3589-4412 Nihon Jitensha Kaikan 1F, 1-9-15 Akasaka, Minato-ku
Sigh! Why on earth one would take a superb sushi-ya and move it to outside the US Embassy well away from "sushi alley" in and around Tsukiji / Ginza is beyond me. I think the 2009 rating of 2-stars is probably closer to the mark. Sushi Saito is all about Saito-san, and he's always happy to lecture diners (in Japanese) about the art and cant of sushi. Perhaps it's that personal attention that has attracted the eye of Michelin inspectors. Calm down boys!
Usukifugu Yamadaya (Rank Up) Fugu Tel: 03-3499-5501 Fleg Nishi-Azabu, 4-11-14 Nishi-Azabu, Minato-ku
Nothing like a little poison to spice up your ranking! The Japanese passion for the poisonour puffer fish is well know, although it's all a little over the top if you ask me. If you're lucky to be one of the 23 people seated (22 if you go with me) here, you had better have about JPY30K in your pocket because this place is not cheap. Perhaps the fish fly first class on their daily journey from Usuki in Kyushu. But remember, several people die every year from Fugu poisoning in Japan ... although no-one can remember the last time it happened here.
Yukimura Japanese Tel: 03-5772-1610 3F, 1-5-5 Azabu-Juban, Minato-ku
There is no doubt this place is the pick of the kaiseki 3-stars. You'd never know, as it is located on the 3rd floor in a nondescript building in the Azabu Juban. But the things he does with food ... oh be still my racing heart! Be warned: no tables, only 11 counter seats, and a prix fixe. You should be thinking JPY40K.