AR 14

Hospitality Magazine recently announced its annually updated list of the 50 best restaurants in Asia. While the top prize went to Bangkok’s Nahm, Japan did snag the second and fifth place sports on the list.

But while Japan has a rich and complex cultural legacy all its own, its most highly ranked dining establishment isn’t a Japanese restaurant, but a French one.

The restaurant Narisawa, named after owner and head chef Yoshihiro Narisawa, is located in Aoyama, one of the swankiest of Tokyo’s many swanky west-side neighborhoods. The restaurant isn’t just a trendy flash in the pan, as its second place honor in Hospitality Magazine’s most recent international survey of over 900 restaurant experts follows a first place finish in the publication’s poll the previous year.

AR 1

Although primarily billed as a French restaurant, the menu is a fusion of the techniques chef Narisawa learned during his eight years of apprenticeship in Europe and his own avant-garde ideas about where fine cuisine should be going in the modern age. Like all world-class chefs, Narisawa is particular about the quality of his ingredients, and the intertwining of his cooking sensibilities and conservationist philosophy can be seen in his insistence on sourcing ingredients from sustainable farms. All of this is in keeping with his belief that nature itself is a chef, and that guests of his restaurant “should not only be eating a meal, they should absorb life itself.”

AR 2

So great is Narisawa’s passion for the planet that he occasionally puts pieces of it into his meals. His Soup of the Soil is made from the extract formed by cooking burdock root with bits of soil still clinging to the vegetable.

AR 3

Decidedly more colorful is the chef’s sautéed eggplant, which is covered with a selection of edible flowers.

AR 4

There’s also this dish of bread encrusted with the chive-like vegetable known in Japan as nira, making it resemble a mossy forest floor.

AR 5

The use of magnolia chips and flowers lend an earthy bitterness to this ice cream and chocolate dessert concoction.

AR 6

Narisawa’s inventive presentation extends to the animal kingdom, even. A piece of elegant glassware makes it seem as these two jellied ayu sweetfish on swimming gracefully across the diner’s plate.

AR 7

As is often the case with fine dining in Japan, the assumption is that the expert chef would is more skilled than the customers in choosing which dishes should be partaken of, and the restaurant’s website includes a request that customers “place yourself in our hands” by accepting the course meals prepared by Narisawa. Prix fixe lunches are 12,600 yen (US$124), while dinner at the Aoyama establishment will set gourmands back 21,000 yen. Both figures include tax, but not the 10 percent service charge, although when starting from such premium pricing, fretting over the extra fee seems terribly plebeian, wouldn’t you agree?

For those of you who just can’t stomach the idea of dropping an entire week’s food budget on a single meal in Tokyo but not eating Japanese food, a trip to Ryugin, Hospitality Magazine’s number five restaurant in Asia, may be more satisfying. Ryugin is located in Roppongi, Tokyo’s most bustling foreign enclave, and while like Narisawa its menu is far from completely traditional, it does exhibit far more Japanese influences than the list’s runner-up.

AR 8

Chef Seiji Yamamoto’s commitment to his craft is so strong that he decides what dishes to offer after visiting markets in the morning and procuring the freshest ingredients possible. The intimately-sized restaurant has just 20 seats, plus a small private dining room, and in order to ensure olfactory disturbances don’t detract from the flavor of diners’ meals, smoking is not allowed anywhere on the premises. The restaurant even asks that guests refrain from using strongly scented perfumes and colognes before their visit to Ryugin.

AR 9

As with many restaurants in Japan, presentation is much a part of a meal at Ryugin as flavor. Some of the artistic choices adhere to the austere standards of traditional Japanese formal dining, such orders of mixed sashimi or steamed abalone.

AR 10

AR 11

More modern dishes are allowed a more flamboyant color scheme, such as the tofu with sea urchin and stir-fried leeks.

AR 12

And, on rare occasions, Yamamoto’s allows his imagination completely free rein.

AR 13

Ryugin does have an a la carte menu, but once again most diners elect to leave the selection of dishes up to Yamamoto. The standard course is listed at 23,000 yen, once again not including service charge. A princely sum, to be sure, but if you’re on the fence over whether or not to spend your bonus on a meal at Ryugin, don’t take too long deciding, as the price goes up to 27,000 yen on April 1.

(Oh, and if the idea of Narisawa’s dirt soup appeals to you, we have another place in mind that you definitely ought to check out.)

Restaurant information
Narisawa / ナリサワ
Address: Tokyo-to, Minato-ku, Minami Aoyama, 2-6-15
Lunch 12 noon-3 p.m. (entry until 1 p.m.), Dinner 6:30 p.m.-9 p.m.
Closed Sunday

Ryugin / 龍吟
Address: Tokyo-to, Minato-ku, Roppongi 7-17-24, Side Roppongi Building, 1st Floor
東京都港区六本木7-17-24 サイド六本木ビル 1F
Open 6 p.m.-1 a.m.
Closed Sunday

Source: Naver Matome
Top image: Narisawa
Insert images: Tabelog, Narisawa, FC2, Turner, WordPress, Tabelog