So, what do three Michelin stars really taste like?
In the last nine months, I’d tried to have dinner at Ryugin, the legendary modern kaiseki restaurant in Roppongi, three times, but each time I was thwarted. Circumstances always seem to conspire against me.
Last week, the stars finally aligned for us. As we walked through the doors, past the celebratory bouquets of white flowers lining the entrance, I felt that the timing couldn’t have been better -- on November 29, Ryugin got its third Michelin star.
Unsurprisingly, the restaurant was fully booked. To our left, a table of businessmen discussed finance between mouthfuls of Wagyu beef and bouts of tipsy laughter. Murmurs of appreciation arose from the group of international chefs seated across from us.
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There was certainly much to appreciate about the 11-course tasting meal we feasted on that night.
After toasting Ryugin’s chef, Seiji Yamamoto, we dug into a hot appetizer of pillowy grilled shirako (milt), set into a silky egg custard flecked with bits of fried Shougoin turnip from Kyoto.
Ordinarily, I’m not the biggest fan of shirako (“milt,” after all, is a polite way of saying, “fish sperm”), but the dish was remarkably delicate.
Science at heart
Each course offered a delightful combination of flavors and textures. A cold dish of monkfish liver pâté and ark shell with white miso sauce was creamy, crunchy, sweet and savory at the same time.
Flaky akamutsu sea perch, encrusted in a crispy coating of toasted rice, was so delicious I wanted to cry.
When Ryugin first opened, in 2003, Yamamoto was described as a molecular gastronomist. But, rather than relying on gimmicky techniques and quirky presentation, the chef chooses to use science subtly.
Liquid nitrogen appeared only once -- in the form of the powdered pear ice cream inside the -196 Degree Celsius Candy Pear, which was served with a contrapuntal spoonful of +99 Degree Celsius Pear Jam.
Nine months is a long time, but Ryugin was definitely worth the wait.
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Ryugin, 1/F Side Roppongi Bldg, 7-17-24 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo, +81 (0) 3 3423-8006. Open 6 p.m.-1 a.m. Closed Sunday and holidays. Website.
The tasting menu costs ¥23,100 per person, drinks not included. A-la-carte options available after 9 p.m.