Tokyo: The New Culinary Capital Of The World?

Posted on: 25 February 2009 by Gareth Hargreaves

Toyko's restaurants have been awarded a record 227 stars in the latest Michelin guide - more than Paris, London and New York.

Tokyo has been declared the culinary capital of the world for a second consecutive year by leading restaurant guide Michelin.

The city has been awarded a total of 227 stars in Michelin's Tokyo 2009 guide, placing it ahead of Paris, New York and London. The Japanese capital now boasts nine three-star restaurants – the highest accolade given by Michelin – putting it on a par with Paris.

There are also 36 two-star and 128 one-star restaurants in the city.

"Tokyo's gastronomy has improved and evolved in the course of the year and the rise in stars shows that," says Jean-Luc Naret, director of Michelin Guides. "There is great potential in Tokyo and it can get even more stars."

Michelin began assessing Tokyo's restaurants in 2007 ahead of the release of the 2008 guidebook.

There was a storm of protest from Tokyo's chefs amid concerns that European evaluators would not understand Japanese cuisine. The city promptly kicked Paris off the number one spot for the first time in the guide's history, winning a record 191 stars.

Stars are awarded for the quality of the cooking alone, with restaurants anonymously assessed by Michelin employees. A one star restaurant is considered to offer very good food, while a two star indicates excellent cooking. Three stars are reserved for what the guide considers to be exceptional cuisine.

While Paris might still be good if you've got a big wad of cash and want the best of the best, Tokyo is really where it's at food-wise.

When the venerable Michelin guide came out with its first Tokyo edition, it was so full of praise that it almost read like a press release for the Japan Restaurant Association. Its conclusion — Tokyo is the culinary capital of the world.

But is it, really?

Here's a Michelin morsel:

"Tokyo is a shining star in the world of cuisine," Michelin Guides Director Jean-Luc Naret said shortly after its Tokyo edition came out last November. "We found the city's restaurants to be excellent, featuring the best ingredients, culinary talents and a tradition passed on from generation to generation and refined by today's chefs."

The announcement was a godsend for Japan, which has been trying for years to put a shine on a tourist industry muted by the country's notoriously high prices and a powerful line-up of rival attractions just beyond its shores — such as the fabled shopping districts of Hong Kong, the beaches of Thailand, and the rapid rise of Shanghai as one of Asia's most interesting cityscapes.

Treated as front-page news and trumpeted on TV broadcasts, Michelin's glowing review was also seen as confirmation of the value of something that the Japanese have long seen as a source of national pride — their mastery of sushi, raw fish and all the other famously subtle elements of Japan's indigenous cuisine.

The guide sold 120,000 copies in just three days. It was a hard-won honour for Tokyo.

Tokyo In A Nutshell

The Japanese capital is one of the world’s great cities, a teeming metropolis of 12 million people which somehow manages to boast a frighteningly efficient public transport system along with one of the lowest crime rates in the world.

Getting There

Although there are four airlines - two British and two Japanese - competing to offer flights to Tokyo , the city remains largely a business destination, precluding the availability of any real bargains.

Famous Food

According to the Michelin Guides, Tokyo is the world's capital of good food. Of course, not everybody agrees. But when the lists come out, there are a few places that just seem to please everybody.

Here are three that got Michelin's highest ranking, three stars, and also tend to get the nod in other lists as well. Dinner prices can range from $125-$195.

  • L'Osier ( French food in Tokyo's swanky Ginza shopping and nightlife area under French chef Bruno Menard. Claims to be "More French than France." Ambiance is a mix of Japonism, art deco and 20th century French painters.
  • Hamadaya ( Very Japanese. Meals may or may not include the services of geisha, depending on what kind of a dining experience the customer is looking for. Food is elegant classical Japanese cuisine, with a strong emphasis on seasonal elements, the finest ingredients and service on beautiful dishes. Location is an old geisha establishment by the Nihon Bridge, an older Tokyo neighborhood.
  • Sukiyabashi Jiro. Located near a subway exit in the basement of an office building, this place is the stuff of sushi legend. Chef Jiro Ono is a national treasure. The restaurant is tiny, seating only about 20 people at its counter and tables. Chefs make their way each day to the huge Tsukiji fish market, a short walk away, to find the best and freshest.

Have you been Tokyo recently? Do you have any tips to pass on?

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