With more Michelin stars than any other city (take that, Paris!), Tokyo has become one of the world’s top destinations for fine-dining lovers. From exclusive sushi bars to first-rate French restaurants, Tokyo offers nearly every kind of cuisine and promises to please even the most discerning palates. A culinary trip to Japan’s capital may leave your wallet considerably lighter, but you’ll definitely eat like a king.
RyuGin owner and chef Seiji Yamamoto has been making waves with his contemporary approach to kaiseki ryori (traditional Japanese haute cuisine) ever since the restaurant opened in 2003. Mr. Yamamoto is known for his embrace of cutting edge techniques: he famously used a CAT scan to discover the best way to debone a conger eel. RyuGin, which currently ranks 20th on the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, received its third Michelin star in 2012 and continues to dazzle guests with unique dishes such as grilled sea perch encrusted with a coating of toasted rice and the minus 385-degrees Celsius candy apple, filled with powdered ice cream.
Dining at a high-end sushi restaurant can be an intimidating experience. Not so at 2-starred restaurant Taku, a relaxed, modern sushi bar in the residential neighborhood of Nishi-Azabu. The young sushi chef Takuya Sato trained in some of Tokyo’s top restaurants before opening his own, and he serves top-quality fish in a refined, traditional style. The excellent selection of wine, sake and shochu is a plus.
At the contemporary French restaurant Narisawa, chef Yoshihiro Narisawa’s aim is to bring nature to the plate, and he does so in ingenious and delicious ways. An earthy “forest bread” incorporates tree sap and powdered chestnut wood, while a whole grilled squid -- topped with nitrogen-frozen olive oil, lemon juice and ash made from charred red peppers -- invokes the misty shores of northern Spain. The chef trained under French masters such as Joel Robuchon and Paul Bocuse. His restaurant now boasts 2 Michelin stars and ranks 12th on the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list.
Hidden along a back street behind the Nikko hotel in Ginza, Koju is one of Tokyo’s finest places to experience kappo-style cuisine (fine cuisine served “in the kitchen”), or what you might call a more intimate version of kaiseki ryori. Michelin certainly agrees: Koju has been awarded 3 stars every year since the Tokyo guide was released in 2008. Chef Toru Okuda has a keen eye for detail and uses only the freshest meat, seafood and produce. Dishes at Koju are minimal works of culinary art, with emphasis on the quality of the ingredients.
Chef Kenichi Takase has traveled throughout the southern Chinese province of Guangzhou more than 50 times since he began his career. At Michelin-starred Sense, located on the 37th floor of the posh Mandarin Oriental hotel, Mr. Takase’s love for Cantonese food comes through with unmistakable clarity. The chef takes a fresh approach to this cuisine and delivers elegant dishes that are both authentic in flavor and contemporary in feel.
Sawada is one of Tokyo’s most popular sushi restaurants. With only 6 seats and 2 Michelin stars, getting a reservation can be tricky, but owner and chef Koji Sawada is a welcoming host. Meals here are elaborate 3-hour feasts offering the best in seasonal seafood from all over Japan -- creamy bites of sea urchin from the Japanese islands of Hokkaido and Kyushu, chewy morsels of cuttlefish from Chiba. Perfection, however, comes at a price. Expect to pay 21,000 yen ($270) for lunch -- and more for dinner. But the experience is worth every yen.
Like French restaurants, Italian eateries abound in Tokyo, but the sleek Bulgari Il Ristorante in Ginza manages to stand out. Located on the 9th floor of the Bulgari Tower, the restaurant offers pleasant views and a sophisticated atmosphere. Chef Luca Fantin, who earned his first Michelin star in 2012, prepares fittingly stylish modern Italian cuisine infused with well-considered Japanese touches, such as black olive gnocchi with raw cuttlefish.
No trip to Tokyo would be complete without tempura, those sinful mouthfuls of deep-fried bliss. The crispy delicacies at Michelin-starred Motoyoshi are almost guilt-free, encased in a light golden batter and cooked to perfection. Young chef Kazuhito Motoyoshi pays particular attention to the quality of seasonal vegetables, as well as seafood specialties such as sweet scallops and sea urchin wrapped in shiso (perilla) leaves.