John O'Ceallaigh, The Daily Telegraph, March 07, 2014
Tokyo is a true culinary capital, with one of the highest concentrations of Michelin-starred restaurants in the world. Standards of service and the quality of cuisine are typically excellent, but knowing where to go in this fast-paced city can be difficult. Here travel and dining experts give their guides to the best restaurants in the city.
I aim to eat at Tenko (no website; 3-1 Kagurazaka, Shinjuku) at least three or four times a year. It’s a traditional, family-owned tempura restaurant set in what was once a geisha house. The founder’s son has taken charge now but if I go to the restaurant the mentor himself, who’s about 75 years old, makes tempura for me. Diners sit at a horseshoe-shaped counter and watch as the chef cooks directly before them, then the tempura is served one piece at a time rather than all together as a single course. It’s a wonderful way to eat; you’re never full up – the batter is so light – and you can see the chef’s mastery firsthand. It’s a resolutely Japanese experience but foreign visitors won’t have to struggle with a menu as you’re served a meal chosen by the chef. If you want to try tempura in Japan this is the best place.
From Japan, chef Nobu Matsuhisa opened his first independent restaurant in Beverly Hills in 1987. Now with 27 restaurants to his name, he is one of the most recognised purveyors of quality Japanese cuisine. You can see his guide to other exceptional restaurants around the world here .
Joel Robuchon’s choice
Jiro is a tiny place, just big enough for about ten covers, located at the entrance of an underground station in Tokyo. It’s such a tiny place that they don’t have any fridges so they can’t store the fish, but everything is so fresh that you won’t smell it at all. The restaurant is really exceptional in terms of the quality of its ingredients. It has become internationally renowned and now has three Michelin stars so it does attract some tourists and epicureans. PThe simplicity of Jiro is exceptional. There’s no emphasis on the décor; the emphasis is purely on the food: really fantastic, fresh fish. If you haven’t had sushi at Giro you don’t know what real sushi is. In my opinion, this is where you find the best quality sushi in the world.
With masses of Michelin stars distributed among his many restaurants, Joel Robuchon is one of the most illustrious chefs. He lists his other favourite restaurants around the world here .
Shinobu Namae’s choice
In Ginza, Esquisse serves modern French cuisine – something that is rather exotic for us here in Japan. From Corsica, chef Lionel Beccat’s dishes are light but profoundly flavoursome. I particularly recommend his “kamo-bushi”, a clear broth that is incredibly rich.
This Roppongi restaurant serves Japanese cuisine, but in a way that is fresh and inspiring. Even if you’re familiar with Japanese cooking, chef Seiji Yamamoto can introduce you to flavours that you have never experienced. He is dedicated to protecting traditional cooking practices and exploring the roots of our national cuisine but he also has an ability to question why things are done in a certain way. That means he is able to create dishes that marry the best old-style methods with new innovations. If you go there I highly recommend you try his steamed abalone, which looks simple but is exceptionally tasty and always cooked absolutely perfectly.
Shinobu Namae is head chef at lauded Tokyo restaurant L’Effervescence. Trained under Heston Blumenthal and Michel Bras, his restaurant, opened in 2010, serves multifaceted dishes designed to appeal to all the senses.
Danielle Demetriou's choice
In contrast to the understated setting of this place – an anonymous building on a quiet back-street – the chef Hiroyuki Kanda is a master of contemporary Japanese cuisine. Expect seasonal dishes, from the freshest-cut sushi to mountain vegetables, served as prettily as a haiku. As it has only eight seats along a wooden counter and only fractionally fewer Michelin stars (three), you need to reserve well in advance.
Prepare to be dazzled by the interior – from the lift doors opening onto the kitchens (yes, it’s the right floor) to the dramatically lit dining space. Food here is French fusion – from roast pork cutlet with chrysanthemum green puree to grilled swordfish with dandelion leaf salad – but it’s the atmosphere, dramatic decor and glamorous clientele that draw the crowds.
Danielle Demetriou is the Telegraph’s resident Tokyo expert. For more of her suggestions on the best places to eat in the city, see here .
Mark C. O’ Flaherty’s choice
This is one of the more fiendishly difficult restaurants to find, in a city that enjoys farcical discretion as much as quality ingredients. Predictably, there’s no website – head for 1-5-25 Akasaki, Minato-ku. It’s one of Issey Miyake’s favourite restaurants, specialising in sukiyaki – a dish of meat, bean curd and vegetables all fried together. After drinks are served, finely cut marbled beef is grilled at your sunken dining table, and dunked in frothed-up raw egg. There’s an immaculate counter bar to eat at, but the private rooms with tatami mats, shoji screens and incredible flower arrangements are where you want to be. It’s unique, ceremonial, delicious and meticulous, right down to the staff kimonos.
This is by no means a conventional fine-dining restaurant but if the overall experience of an evening is more important than the actual dinner, then Robot might be the best restaurant in the world. Okay, so the bento box isn’t spectacular and you drink beer rather than Barolo. But that’s not the point. Things kick off in the bar, with Daft Punk-on-wheels robots stalking the room. Dinner itself takes place in front of a troupe of drumming and dancing girls who appear on mammoth robots, fly across the room on airplanes, ride cows dressed as pandas and fight battles with giant spiders, while chrome-clad cyber DJs race around the room in front of floor-to-ceiling video screens. It’s a dead cert you’ll never have encountered anything like this – not surprising given the restaurant allegedly cost £83 million.
Mark C.O’Flaherty is the founder and editor-in-chief of Civilian, an irreverent, new online publication fusing luxury travel, the arts and design. For updates of its latest stories follow @CIVILIANglobal .
John O’Ceallaigh’s choice
Although I aim to explore local haunts whenever I go abroad, for foreigners to fully comprehend the intricacies of Japanese cuisine it’s sensible to go somewhere the staff is likely to speak at least conversational English. On the 38 floor of the Mandarin Oriental hotel, Sushi Sora is configured like a conventional sushi restaurant – it seats just eight diners along a simple wooden counter and the chef prepares dishes directly in front of guests – but, less usually, the staff is practised in patiently explaining the service to any flustered visitor in need of guidance. I was mesmerised by my experience here: the chef took extreme care in his work and I was served individual pieces of sushi as separate courses. The reverence shown to ingredients was touching, the flavours and presentation faultless, and the sake pairing a revelation – I rarely take to the drink but the selection here has been chosen by the world sake sommelier so is a step above what most Western visitors are used to. Truly one of the best meals I have ever had.
New York Grill
The team at Shinjuku’s Park Hyatt Tokyo recognises that its international renown is partially due to its prominent placement in Lost in Translation, but the many visitors who come to admire its interior would do well to visit the hotel’s New York Grill for dinner. On the 52 floor, the dimly lit dining room offers exceptional views of this seemingly ceaseless city and the food packs a punch. Sturdy sirloins and marinated lobster match the best you’ll find anywhere and, after a succession of Japanese meals, these familiar flavours should provide additional comfort. Round off your meal by retreating to the adjacent New York Bar for cocktails and jazz – there are live performances every night.
John O’Ceallaigh is the Telegraph’s digital luxury travel editor
Junya Yamasaki’s choice
In Ginza, three Michelin-starred Kondo is one of the country’s best tempura restaurants. Customers sit at a wooden counter and watch the chef at work. It’s a wonderful way to learn about and appreciate the artistry behind deep frying and to enjoy this sophisticated form of “junk food” without feeling heavy or guilty afterwards.
Tourists often end up near Hosokawa soba restaurant as it’s near Ryogoku Stadium, which is where sumo wrestling bouts are held. Of all the soba restaurants in Tokyo, this is my favourite. It looks beautiful but it doesn’t aim to simply wow visitors with friendly service. It’s actually a solemn place where the chefs aim to serve soba dishes that are 100 per cent perfect. I go back again and again; it provides the city’s quintessential soba experience.
From Japan, Junya Yamasaki is head chef at London’s critically acclaimed Japanese udon restaurant Koya .
For more on Tokyo's best hotels, shops, attractions and experiences see resident expert Danielle Demetriou's complete Telegraph Tokyo city break guide .