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Nihonryori RyuGin; Tokyo most famous kaiseki restaurant for foreigners?!


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While Nihonryori RyuGin is not the best restaurant in Tokyo, it’s one of the most well-known dining places in the Japan’s capital. Its chef-patron, Seiji Yamamoto is often considered as Asia’s finest chef … at least according to the Le Chefs’ ranking. I already knew Ryugin for sometimes, but never actually had the chance to visit due to the stiff’s competition at a city with the most Michelin-starred restaurants – meaning I ended up going somewhere else in the past. In early Summer this year, we had a ‘sudden’ plan to go to Japan with my parents and kid so with slightly over one-month notice, these days visiting a few elite restaurants in Tokyo proved to be a difficult task. With plenty of theme parks on the schedule, I did not have many days to choose from. In addition to Narisawa, I managed to secure a table at Ryugin – it was the last Summer meal for Yamamoto-san at the Roppongi.    

 

As far as non-vegetable produce’s concerned, Summer in Japan means you would eat Ayu, Hamo, Unagi etc.; that’s exactly what I found for my dinner menu at RyuGin (you should find something similar at other elite kaiseki restaurants).

-Sweetfish, whenever I ate this, was often grilled and usually seasoned with salt. It might not be my favorite kind of fish but since I didn’t often eat Ayu – the fishes tasted good. The head was crunchy and rather sweet; the body including the guts / innards was crisp and slightly bitter. To enhance the enjoyment, Chef Yamamoto provided sauce made of watermelon, vinegar and some herbs

-The Pike eel was prepared in 2 different ways. The first one as the main ingredient for the owan. The hamo’s quality was top notch with the white flesh bloomed like a flower and absorbed the tasty dashi’s flavor. To add more depth and some texture contrast, we found: jelly-like junsai, gooey okra, juicy kamonasu etc.

The second preparation was for the main rice dish. The daggertooth pike conger was deep-fried; crispy at the outside while the meat inside was still tender. The rice was fragrant, the shiso leaves gave some grassy / spearmint aroma. Inside the miso soup, the soft tofu was cooked beautifully in the shape of “Chrysanthemum”; taste-wise was alright. The pickles were quite average

-The freshwater eel was slowly and carefully grilled – smoky, aromatic with subtle flavor. To enhance the Unagi taste, you could use the tsume sauce, shio and sudachi. By itself, the unagi was already pleasant.

 

For more details of the kaiseki menu, you’re welcome to see from the link below. In general, the food was good and creative though no particular dish truly stood out. RyuGin might not (yet) reach the level of Kyo Aji or Matsukawa, but somehow, I was happy with my meal. Maybe because I’ve not had any real kaiseki for nearly 3 years (aka long time not returning to Tokyo) and I only have Ryugin as my only kaiseki meal at this trip otherwise I might have eaten the same ingredients with similar cooking / preparation that would diminish the “return” of my enjoyment. I put this meal on par with my dinner at Ishikawa and Yukimura; among these 3, Ishikawa had the best service probably because we were seated at the counter and experienced direct interaction with Hideki Ishikawa-san himself.

 

The RyuGin’s dining room could accommodate about 20 people at once. My wife and I came for the 2nd seating at around 9 PM. Besides the black and white dragon painting, the interior of the dining room was pretty simple with low ceiling. Service was fine; many staffs spoke English well and have been working here for a few years. Taking pictures of the dishes, except with your mobile in silent mode, was discouraged. Seiji Yamamoto himself would give diners a warm send off. He’s really friendly, full of smile and very passionate when asked about food and his work. Whenever, RyuGin opens, it’s a guarantee that Chef Yamamoto would lead his team in the kitchen. It may not be so soon, but I got a feeling I will visit Ryugin at midtown Hibiya one day.

 

More comprehensive review: http://zhangyuqisfoodjourneys.blogspot.com/2018/11/nihonryori-ryugin-tokyo.html

Meal photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/albums/72157675226288358

 

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