Tokyo, Uncategorized

Ryugin, Tokyo (***)

When making reservations for Japan, there were places that I took a long and hard look at, trying to figure out how badly I wanted to dine at those restaurants, Ryugin was not one of them, it was the first and only place I made a reservation at and never looked back. Ryugin is regarded as one of, if not, the best Kaiseki restaurant in Tokyo. Head chef Seiji Yamamoto has mingled with big league chefs like Aduriz of Mugaritz, and his restaurant was geared primarily towards a very modernist take on Kaiseki cuisine, before a recent shift towards traditional food in recent years. It recently earned its third michelin star last December, which they were clearly very proud about, the Michelin man displayed the moment you enter the restaurant, it is currently ranked 28th in the world, down 8 from the time I visited Ryugin.


(Hot) Charcoal grilled Horse clam and Icefish with plum flavor

Horse clam was nicely grilled, dusted with a spicy powder. Icefish was cooked in a tempura style, and the batter was infused with a plum flavor. The plum was quite faint, more of an aroma than a flavor, but the batter was good, thin but crisp. Clam was incredibly juicy and sweet, and the spiciness from the clam was a wonderful touch, spiciness seemed to be a flavor profile that has been missing a most of the high end Japanese restaurants I had dined at so far, so it was a refreshing change. The smokiness from the charcoal balanced out the sweetness from the clam beautifully. Good

             

(hot)/(cold) Assortment of spring vegetables in one plate with simmered abalone

Abalone simmered for 8 hours, what struck me immediately was that the abalone was slightly bland, the braise had pulled out alot of it’s flavor, but its texture was stellar- very soft, almost falling apart. Thankfully, the abalone flavor was reintroduced in the form of the stock it was cooked it, very intense briny-sweet abalone flavor. The component that stood out the most for me was the corn, lightly grilled with a soft char, unbelievable crunch, intense sweet flavor. the vegetables were sitting in a sudachi-soy sauce. Okay


(cold)/(hot) White asparagus with corn and tofu dressing. Fresh sea urchin with lace wrapping, deep fried

Grilled white asparagus with corn-tofu sauce topped with kombu, uni wrapped in shiso leaf, then wrapped in rice paper and deep fried. The asparagus with the corn tofu was superb, probably one of the best things I’ve ever tasted. The sauce had an amazing texture, the tofu lent it body and creaminess, and the corn was earthy, very clean, sharp flavors, very sweet, and somehow the flavor of the tofu didnt dilute the flavor of the corn at all, and the sauce complimented the crunch of the asparagus beautifully. Superb
The uni, which I usually love, was surprisingly a little bland, I think I’ve never had uni cooked before, and cooking it seemed to take away from that intense briny flavor that I associate with it, saving grace was that it was nicely fried, the rice paper shell was crisp and yielded quickly. Good


(hot) Ichiban dashi soup with Greenling fish and fried tofu

The fish was expertly poached, soft and supple, flaked apart upon contact with the back of your spoon. The tofu had an interesting texture, it wasnt as brittle as regular tofu, and it had more bite, an almost chewy consistency. The broth was subtle, and it felt as though there was a intricate and delicate balance of flavors. The dish felt very traditional, something that dashi connessiors would be satisfied with, yet some of that subtlety was a little lost on me. Okay


(Cold) Daily assortment of sashimi RyuGin style

While this is such a beautiful plate of food, my notes on the dish are a little hard to read, but I will list out what I have:
Squid with salt and red shiso, sudachi lime
Very strong flavor, better than the one I had at Sushi Kanesaka. Good
Tai marinated with soy, Sakura and stock
Very very chewy. Okay
Cold smoked bonino, ginger, chive, wasabi, condiments were placed into a slit cut into the fish, like a tiny pouch. Good
Dou Miao with squid fin. Okay

(Hot) Egg custard(Chawanmushi) with Hotaru squid from Toyama
The texture of the egg custard, or chawanmushi, was nothing like I’ve ever had. It was so delicate and soft that it was more like a sauce that just hit the point of being set, it melted right down the moment it hit the warmth of your mouth, unbelievable. The sauce was dashi thickened with starch, which give it a subtle flavor. Peas also had a great texture, they seemed to ‘pop’ when you bit into them, which meant a brilliant contrast to the super soft chawanmushi. The squid had a nice char to it, but I found the flavor of the Hotaru squid to be a little too pungent and aggressive. Very good


(Hot) Sea perch with crisp rice

Chef Yamamoto ensures crunch on this fish dish by adding what he calls a “second skin” of toasted rice kernels. Before grilling the fillets, he brushes them with egg white and presses the toasted rice onto the skin. As the fish cooks, its oils coat the kernels and crust is formed. This two-step approach to grilling the fish helps to ensure ensure juicy flesh: He skewers the fish and partially cooks it over hot charcoal, then leaves the fish to rest briefly on a warm shelf before grilling a second time. He then finishes the fish by spraying the entire surface with a fine mist of black vinegar, soy sauce and mirin. So you have the basic flavor profile of sushi: rice, fish, vinegar, mirin. The rice forms a beautiful crisp crust around the fish, and protects it from the harsh direct heat. The result is a perfectly cooked piece of fish, with a rice cracker shell flavored with vinegar and fish juices  around it. Delicious. It is served with sautéed broad bean and pureed abalone liver, which was not as pungent as I thought it would be, and  shiitake and cucumber with goma sauce(very creamy) topped with a glazed walnut with sansho pepper. Intelligent, perfectly executed. Superb

 

(hot) Kuroge Wagyu beef sirloin in sukiyaki sauce, with crispy poached egg
A poached, breaded, then fried egg, similar to a scotch egg without the minced meat component, you cut into the egg and allow the yolk to flow out, mixing it into the beef, reconstituting a beef sukiyaki. The beef looked overcooked but it wasn’t, it was brilliant together with the yolk, which was slightly richer and more viscous than traditional sukiyaki egg(usually dipped raw) because it had been partially cooked. The flavor of the beef and  sweetness of the sukiyaki sauce were not drowned out by the yolk, egg was perfectly cooked, so whimsical and fun. Superb


(hot) Rice simmered in sakura tea, with sakura shrimp. Pickles and shrimp broth red miso soup

Rice cooked in cherry blossom with crisp sakura shrimp. The shrimp was unbelievably sweet and the rice was very aromatic, it was also more fluffy than Im used to, which contrasted the crisp shrimp nicely. Good
Miso soup made from shrimp broth. This had the most complex taste In miso soup I’ve ever tasted. It had the underlying savory taste that you get from the miso, but it also had a deep, rich, satisfying sweetness from the shrimp broth, the two flavors added so much depth of flavor. Incredibly satisfying. Very good


(Cold) Ryugin Original “Homemade Cold Soba Noodle with Aoyuzu Flavor”

This dish was actually not on the menu. At this point of the meal I was asked if I was full, and I was, very. But the mention of having chasoba was too good to pass up, you simply don’t refuse food from a good restaurant. The noodles were fragrant, fragrant enough that you could smell the green tea the moment the noodles hit the table. The texture of the noodles was not too chewy, but still had a good bite t it. The sauce was not too salty and did not overpower the noodles, it just seasoned the noodles lightly and took a step back, letting the natural flavor of the chasoba shine. Good


(cold)(hot) Ryugin’s signature dessert. -196C “Candy strawberry” and 99C Strawberry jam. 

Despite being to El Bulli, who would’ve thought that one of the most technically fascinating dishes I’ve ever had would be from a Kaiseki restaurant in Tokyo. This has everything, Sugar blowing, liquid nitrogen, dehydration, reconstructed something that isn’t really as what it seems. You can see how this is made from the video below, so Im only gonna talk about the flavors. The 300C temperature difference within the dish was a little more for kicks and giggles, but the jam was in fact unbelievably well made, very strong strawberry flavor, slight acidity, not too sweet. Combined with the powdered liquid nitrogen strawberry, it actually worked incredibly well. Reminded me a little of Fat Ducks Hot/Cold ice tea. The crisp sugar shell was a wonderful contrast to the soft jam. For such a small, compact dessert. this offered so much- Textural contrast, temperature contrast, color contrast. Superb


(cold) RyuGin signature dish. “Roppongi pudding”

I’m usually not a fan of puddings, but damn this was good. The burnt caramel was a lot softer and smoother than I expected, not viscous. The complexity of the caramel is beyond words, the burnt, smoky bitterness, the underlying sweetness, and the combination of those flavors with the smoothest, creamiest steamed pudding, its not hard to see why this is a signature dish for Ryugin. Superb

 

 

Ryugin provided an incredible meal, however, my one big issue with the restaurant was that the whole meal was far too rushed. I was in at 5.45pm and out in 1.5 hours. I would finish one dish, pick up my notebook, before even writing 2 sentences, the next dish would already be on my table, and its no surprise that they are rushing- the restaurant has three sittings for dinner, three. For a 3 star restaurant serving a degustation menu, even two sittings is pushing it. I had to tell them to slow the food down halfway because I was already eating at my limit, but even then, the food was still coming out pretty quickly. While this doesn’t sound like a very big deal, having to rush through the food does not make for a good dining experience. Which is a huge shame, because Ryugin easily serves some of the best food I’ve ever had in my life.

A lot of thought has been placed into each dish, the way the flavors come together, the way the cold/hot temperatures of each dish is mapped out on the menu, the contrast of textures, none of the side dishes felt out of place. All in all, the food is intelligent, in a way that serves to elevate the overall taste of the dish, you get a sense that the meal is cooked by a chef to understands and has a wide repertoire of techniques and skills, yet practices restraint because he has a very clear understanding of how to utilize those techniques to maximize efficiency and bring out the best of his produce. A meal at Ryugin isn’t cheap, and Ryugin doesn’t do lunch so you will probably have to spend quite a bit on their degustation menu, but for what its worth, this was the best meal I had in Tokyo, and one of the more memorable meals I’ve had in terms of food.

 

Matcha to end the meal

 

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3 thoughts on “Ryugin, Tokyo (***)

  1. I had a similar experience at RyuGin in February 2011, when he still had only two stars (but already deserved three). The food was amazing, probably the best I’ve ever had. And so was the wine! Are you into wine at all? You never mention it in your reviews, but for me it is almost as important as the food, especially if it has been matched well with the food. At RyuGin the matching sakés and wines were amazing, as was the price but that was OK. Even at other three star restaurants they usually hold back on the wine to keep it less expensive, but I’d rather pay a bit more and get the best.

    The only thing that was very different during our visit was the timing. Our reservation was for 7pm and we left at 10:50pm — I could look it up because we took a picture with the chef at the end of the meal and I checked the time stamp. Perhaps extra sittings have been added now that they have three stars and get even more interest?

    I’m already looking forward to my next meal at RyuGin in October or November 2013! (Unfortunately I do not live as ‘close’ as you do.)

    1. Haha, I dont post about wine because I rarely have wine pairings with meals. I get red very easily and I find that I can’t taste food as well if I dont have wine, I take 1-2 glasses per meal maximum. I had a really good green tea that Ryugin makes themselves(they serve it in a really cool wine bottle). From my experience, Fat Duck, El Bulli. and Robuchon Au dome have incredible wine lists though

      I think Ryugin have added an additional sitting around 10 for an a la carte menu though, they dont serve lunch so I can imagine them trying to cram more sittings at night, but it does affect the overall experience

      1. I do notice from your very detailed reviews that your brain is not as muddled as mine is at the end of a meal 😉 I wouldn’t want to miss the wine though, and I do manage to remember enough with the help of the photos, even without taking any notes.

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