Tokyo regains Michelin title as world food champ

Tokyo regains Michelin title as world food champ

Michelin's "Tokyo Yokohama Shonan 2012" awards the capital area 17 three-star restaurants
Tokyo Michelin Guide
The 2012 Tokyo Michelin guide is expanded in more ways than one.

Kansai’s brief reign as the food king of Japan came to an end yesterday with the publication of the new Michelin guide for the Tokyo area and the capital’s return to the throne.

With the inclusion of Yokohama and the coastal Shonan area alongside Tokyo, the Kanto area now has 17 three-star restaurants -- 16 in the capital and one in Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture -- to Kansai’s 15.

By comparison, Paris has just ten restaurants that hold the coveted trois étoiles bestowed by the French tire company.

More on CNNGo: Michelin deems Hong Kong Italian restaurant tops outside Italy

Food culture

As for the reasons why Tokyo is consistently so successful, food writer and author of “Izakaya,” Mark Robinson, says the key lies in the purity of the Japanese approach.

“Japanese cooking is all about the taste of the actual ingredient (as opposed to disguising things in sauces, for example), and seasonality has always been crucial, so these two things lay the groundwork for a unique purity of cuisine,” he says.

“Japanese cooking doesn't allow a chef many places to hide.”

“Another factor is Japan's innate skill at adapting foreign influences,” says Robinson. If you look at the international cooking contests, from pizza in Napoli to baguettes in Paris, they're all won by Japanese. They’re adept at going really deep and capturing the essence of something until it becomes their own.”

Straight to the top

Tokyo Michelin guideWe all know what this is, but there's a lot more to Japanese cuisine in 2012.

Tokyo Yokohama Shonan 2012,” to give the guide its full name, lists Tokyo sushi restaurant Sushi Yoshitake as the best in the capital -- a major surprise, given that it has never been rated worthy of any stars before.

Sushi Yoshitake’s new three-star chef Masahiro Yoshitake reacted to the news of his elevation. “It was too much of a surprise -- I’m still in shock,” he said.

“Coming home and hearing the name of my own shop on the news and all that ... my whole body was tense just thinking about it.”

The other new Tokyo top-ranker is Japanese contemporary diner Ryugin, which received a bump-up from two stars to three.

March 11 connection

Ginza stalwart Koju’s arrival on the three-star list means chef Tooru Okuda now has five stars after his name, thanks to his newer restaurant, Ginza Okuda, getting two of its own.

Okuda also had special motivation after losing family members in the March 11 earthquake and tsunami when his native Sendai was hit.

"I want to support the areas that were affected by the earthquake and I want to use ingredients from the region," he said.

Speaking of staying loyal to his Fukushima-area suppliers after the accident at the Daiichi nuclear plant there, he added, "As long as those foods meet government standards [for radiation safety], I will use them for my cooking."

Full list

Of the fifteen other leaders in the new listing, two are French restaurants, with the remainder offering a range of local fare from Fugu to Tempura.

Elsewhere, the guide awards two stars to 57 restaurants, including one ryokan Japanese inn, and one star to 219 establishments across its catchment area. You can download a PDF of the full list from the Michelin website.

The new three-star restaurants

Sushi Yoshitake, 3/F Suzuryu Bldg, 8-7-19 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo, +81 (0) 3 6253 7331. Open 6 p.m. - midnight, weekdays; 6 p.m. - 10 p.m., Saturdays. Closed Sundays and holidays. Website.

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 Sundays and holidays. Website.

Koan, 1/F Route Kokunuma, 2-8 Kugenuma-hanazawa-cho, Fujisawa City, Kanagawa Prefecture, +81 (0) 466 50 6226. Opening hours vary -- lunch from 11:30 a.m., dinner from 5:30 p.m. Website.

"Tokyo Yokohama Shonan 2012 goes on sale in Japanese on December 2 for ¥2,520 and in English on January 16 for $20.

More on CNNGo: New Michelin rankings boost Kansai past Tokyo