What is it, Gentle Reader, that makes the difference between a 3-Star and a 2-Star?
One could be tempted to suggest that at least for the Tokyo Michelin Guide 2011 that difference lies in some gourmandesque battle between Japanese and Western cuisines among the beknighted Inspecteurs Michelin. The proportion of non-Japanese venues among the 2-Stars "feels" higher than the 3-Star list, but reading between the lines of the commentary one can't help but get a feeling that there is some sort of jingoism at play.
And yet, if one assumes that the target audience for said Guide includes the Office Ladies and Gentlemen plus the faux-gourmands of the "international set" (kokusai-ha) of Japan then the preponderance of Japanese restaurants may indeed be a mathematical oddity as the good people at Michelin claim. Not likely, but certainly a possibility.
Still, it might be interesting to survey Guide buyers to determine how many of the starred restaurants which seat 11 or 15 people they are actually able to afford to visit. A less kind perspective would be that these are "wrapping paper" rankings and not meant to guide any sensible diner's selection. You will no doubt notice that Your Humble Correspondent has a slightly different set of ratings.
Aimee Vibert French Tel: 03-5216-8585; 14-1 Nibancho, Chiyoda-ku. EOIT Rating: 3 Forks
The setting is elegant, and the Ile de France cuisine gentle on the fork and perhaps the imagination. Chef Wakatsuki is hugely talented, yet one gets the impression that tradition and pomp are rather over-weighted to keep up with the "tone" of the neighbourhood. Think Knightsbridge, Belgravia and Chelsea. Think cuisine classique. Think JPY35K per person.
Ajiman Fugu Tel: 03-3408-2910; 3-8-8 Roppongi, Minato-ku. EOIT Rating: 3 Forks
There is a awful lot going on here at Ajiman, and it is perhaps a little unapproachable for fugu novices. At the same time, there is a warm sense of professionalism and the Matsubara clan make for a tight counter and "floor" team (there is actually no floor to speak of). Getting reservations can sometimes be a chore, and the JPY40K+ bill at the end can leave one shaking one's head at the profitability inherent in audacity.
Argento Aso Italian contemporary Tel: 03-5524-1270;9F, ZOE Ginza, 3-3-1 Ginza, Chuo-ku. EOIT Rating: 4 Forks
The wonders of alphabetical ordering make this the first of the Hiramatsu Group restaurants in the Guide, although it perhaps does not deserve such prominence within the HG's 24 venues (and counting!). The formality and precision of the operation is typical of a Hiramatsu venue, and this military style can sometimes carry over to the food. Still, a very feminine venue that is bound to impress first-time visitors. JPY30K.
Chugoku Hanten Fureika UP! Chinese Tel: 03-5561-7788; 3-7-5 Higashi Azabu, Minato-ku. EOIT Rating: 3 Forks
This is the jewel in the crown of the five restaurant Fureika group, and boasts an elegant setting to match the very high quality Chinese cuisine on offer. This is Japanese-style traditional Chinese fare, so don't expect any surprises in terms of contemporary cooking. The service style and high-end customer service strike some as a little hide-bound. Expect a bill of about JPY30K each.
Crescent French Tel: 03-3436-3211; 1-8-20 Shiba-Koen, Minato-ku. EOIT Rating: Barely 3 Forks
Hmmm. The first impression here is faux Victorian - the splendid building was constructed seventy years too late for the dumpy Dowager Queen in 1968. The cuisine follows the same basic trend: this is definitely cuisine classique with a heavy dose of fin de siecle trills and frippery. The business was originally an antique dealer, and based on the food likely still is. The addition will be about JPY30K each.
Cuisine Michel Troisgros French contemporary Tel: 03.5321.3915 Hyatt Regency Hotel 1F, 2-7-2 Nishi-Shinjyuku , Shinjuku-ku. EOIT Rating: 4 Forks
Good friends swear by this place, and this is one Michelin rating that Your Humble Correspondent can wholeheartedly support. The cuisine matches the very contemporary architecture of the Shinjuku area, and at times leans heavily towards a constructionist approach. Service is, of course, excellent. While the location is a little down-market, this restaurant certainly is not and well worth the JPY20K you'll pay.
Daigo Shonin Tel: 03-3431-0811 Forest Tower 2F, 2-3-1 Atago , Minato-ku EOIT Rating: 4 Forks
As far as we know, there are no other 2-star Buddhist temple cuisine restaurants in the world. While this alone is ample reason to visit, you will be amazed at the stunning food and the remarkably tranquil experience at Daigo. Although the overarching philosophy is ahisma or non-violence, "vegetarian" is an entirely adequate shortcut. This may be the most refreshing JPY20K you will spend in Tokyo.
Fugu Fukuji Fugu Tel: 03-5148-2922; 3F Koda Bldg, 5-11-13 Ginza, Chuo-ku EOIT Rating: 3 Forks
Here they go with the poisonous fish thing again. To be sure, EOIT rates this place above Usuki which somehow garnered a 3-star rating. There's a whole lot more originality at Fukiji for a start, and everyone seems frightfully busy although JPY30K seems a little steep. Perhaps the rent is high ...
Fukudaya Kaiseki Tel: 03-3261-8577 6-12 Kioicho, Chiyoda-ku. EOIT Rating: 5 Forks
An invitation to Fukudaya is a sure sign one has finally made the "Big Time". This kaiseki-ya has been serving refined food that pleases both eye and palate for 70 years, although there are those who see that tradition as a mere bagatelle compared to other venues (mostly un-Michelin-ed). Be invited rather than inviting, as JPY50K + per head can empty a bank account faster than YHC can drink a coupe de champagne.
Fukuju UP! Kaiseki Tel: 03-3571-8596 5F, 8-8-19 Ginza, Chuo-ku EOIT Rating: 2 Forks
Fukuju has lifted its rating from 1- to 2-stars. Heaven knows why! Perhaps the service and quality goes up as the inspectors become jourenkyaku at some of these venues. There are 8 counter seats and a private room for 8 - and the experience will cost a massive JPY60K per person. You're paying more for exclusiveness than excellence - this is one kaiseki where you won't bump into Your Humble Correspondent!
Harutaka UP! Sushi Tel: 03-3573-1144; Kawabata Building 3F, 8-5-8 Ginza, Chuo-ku. EOIT Rating: 4 Forks
If you ask sushi chefs and industry-insiders where they head for sushi, they will invariably tell you Harutaka. It may be an age thing, but there seems to be more energy and a greater sense of a shared journey of discovery with Harutaka Takahashi. An excellent thing, and a welcome change from the discipleship required at some venues ranked higher. Dinner will cost about JPY20K. Visitors: You should choose to go here!
Hatsunezushi Sushi Tel: 03-3731-2403; 5-20-2 Nishi-Kamata, Ota-ku. EOIT Rating: NOT YET!
One needs to be an explorer to find Hantsunezushi, way out in Ota Ward (Actually, it's only a little over 350m from JR Kamata Station). YHC refrains from restaurants where one needs sustenance en route, so we haven't ventured out this far into Tokyo's suburban jungle. On Tabelog, it only rates 3.62 out of 5, which suggests a little elitism on the part of the Guide. The rumor is that you'll need about JPY20K per person.
Hishinuma Kaiseki Tel:03-3568-6588 B1F, AXIS Bldg, 5-17-1 Roppongi, Minato-Ku EOIT Rating: 4 Forks
Gadzooks, Gentle Reader! Les Inspecteurs have snuck one in on us here. Probably the most approachable kaiseki in Tokyo, with a natty little wine list to go along with it. Very popular, and you should get the butler to make a reservation ahead of time. Easy to find (if you can get past the French Fries upstairs at Va Tout), and well worth the JPY20K per head.
Horikane Japanese Contemporary Tel: 03-3280-4629 ; 1F, Maison ITO, 5-10-13 Shirokanedai, Minato-Ku. EOIT Rating: NOT YET
That ravenously popular Japanese site Tabelog only rates Horikane at 3.37, although that probably reflects the expectations of the younger crowd who contribute to said site. The menu sounds sublime. Expect about JPY30K per person in "damage". YHC will toddle along shortly.
Come back regularly, there's MORE TO FOLLOW ...