Location: Side Roppongi Building, 1st Floor, 7-17-24 Roppongi Minato, Tokyo 106-0032, Japan
Nearest Train Station: Roppongi Station (Hibiya Line, Tokyo Metro)
Opening Hours: 18:00 – 1:00am
Telephone Number: +81 3 3423 8006
Official Website: www.nihonryori-ryugin.com
Reservations: Contact your Hotel Concierge to make a reservation for you or via GoVoyagin Concierge for hassle free reservations. 1 month reservation lead time.
Attire: Semi-Formal. No sandals, sleeveless tops, and shorts. Wearing of perfume is strictly not allowed.
Before I left for Tokyo, I decided I wanted to dine somewhere I knew I have always wanted to try but lacked the opportunity. The best way to experience Tokyo is through their cuisine and with Tokyo being a regular in the Michelin Guide, it is no coincidence that you will indeed learn a lot from their work ethic and culture. I have always known Tokyo to be a city that is meticulous in the Japanese cuisine, and takes pride in the way they revere their cuisine. As I shortlisted my restaurants list on where I will experience my very first authentic Kaiseki Ryori meal, I came across a difficult decision: Choosing between Takazawa and Nihonryori RyuGin. Both restaurants are best known for their meticulous preparations and extremely difficult cooking techniques, both hailed as the best in Modern Kaiseki Ryori. I ended up choosing RyuGin. Most of the critics agree that Takazawa’s flamboyance in presentation is more complex to digest than the food itself. Besides, the restaurant at Akasaka-Mitsuke holds No. 31 in Asia’s 50 Best, RyuGin beating it at the No. 5 spot. (RyuGin held #2 spot last year 2013, and Chef Seiji Yamamoto also won the Chef’s Choice Award that year.)
If you intend to dine at RyuGin within the next 6 months, I would recommend you to stop reading at this moment. I don’t want to spoil the excitement for you and know the dishes to be served, though the menu changes day to day. Dining at RyuGin was extremely important for me and learning the way they handled their dishes makes me respect Japanese cuisine very much and in my opinion, I loved that I didn’t know what I was going to be served as it added to my anticipation.
If you won’t be dining soon, by all means, live vicariously through my experience at RyuGin.
“Cooking involves measuring out of reason” – Chef Seiji Yamamoto
Hidden in the neighborhood of Roppongi Hills, RyuGin, literally meaning “Singing Dragon”, is perhaps one of the most awarded restaurants in the world, ranking No. 33 in World’s 50 Best Restaurants, No. 5 in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants by San Pellegrino and earning three Michelin Stars. In my experience, I have come to know that Chef Seiji Yamamoto has golden hands. Combining traditional Kaiseki Ryori techniques with contemporary, avant garde mastery, he transforms tough ingredients into something even more complex and not thought of, thus earning respect and admiration by many critics. Yamamoto famously sent an eel for a CT scan to better understand its anatomy. Everything else is labor intensive. Not a single dish was prepared easily.
Plating the Prodigality of the Japanese Nature
I was given an envelope that holds the menu for the day. It’s a play to improve my palate and prepare myself for the next dishes that followed. I accompanied my 10 course degustation with simple still water.
Some refreshments to start the meal: Soda. It was extremely cool and refreshing. I felt the exhaustion of the day eventually wane away with this sour drink.
Beginning with a variety of Sensations: Seasonality, Aroma, Temperature, Texture, and Assemblage
Hairy Crab and Wintermelon (Cold) | Abalone, Summer Bamboo, and Abalone Liver Soy Sauce (Hot)
The hairy crab, fresh and the wintermelon puree very cool, it provided such contrast to my otherwise rich and succulent abalone dipped in Abalone Liver Soy Sauce. I liked the summer bamboo best. It’s known fact that bamboo blossoming in the summer tastes differently than other seasons.
Grilled Corn and Fresh Sea Urchin (Cold) with Three Kinds of Onion
Those who disliked onion might change their minds with this dish. The Spring Onions was very sweet and it gave such crunchiness to the grilled corn puree. Overall it was a sweet dish. I indulged in my sea urchin or Uni that is coming from Hokkaido, something I prefer over Miyagi Uni. This is one of my favorites in my degustacion.
Health Spa: Hot Rather Than Warm to Delight the Palate
Pike Eel Shabu Shabu (Hot)
And as if to wake my minds senses and get my brains working, I am given this Pike Eel Shabu Shabu set that gave my much comfort in my tummy. I was asked by my French server if I can eat raw fish, and enjoy it from head to tail without being uncomfortable as its best enjoyed this way. Perhaps, Chef Seiji Yamamoto’s expertise lies in eel, and eel is in season during August in Japan. I would never pass this opportunity to skip eating eel.
The server showed me around five strips of pike eel in the plate that was to be dipped in fish bone stock. The eel, within 15 seconds, eventually hardened and became cooked. The texture was very meaty and yet I knew it was healthy, with the broth giving me much comfort and delight to my senses.
I have to say, I was extremely tired before dining at RyuGin, and all of a sudden this dish washed all the exhaustion away.
I was advised that the last two strips be spiked with lemon. I really enjoyed cooking pike eel by myself.
A Message From the Coast of Japan: Richness of the Sea, Tidal Current
Ocean’s Delicacy of 7 Plates, RyuGin Style (Cold)
The next dish that arrived surprised and impressed me. This was the standout dish that Chef Seiji Yamamoto was well-known for. Starting from the upper left corner and clockwise, the 7 plates that gave much meaning to the degustation were:
1. Bonito (Skipjack Tuna) with Eggplant
2. Hirame (Flounder) with Yuzu Paste
3. Aji with Sesame Paste
4. Ebodai (Butterfish) with Soy Jelly Paste
6. Spiny Lobster
7. Jellyfish with okra (center)
If there was anything true to Seiji Yamamoto’s promise of showing Japan’s culinary heritage, it is rolled into this plate. Each fish was carefully and meticulously plated and it says a lot about RyuGin. I love the Aji mackerel best and is my favorite out of all this. It was unlike I have ever eaten, with such creaminess in the fish combined with the richness of the sesame paste. The plating was beautiful, and I felt like I was transported back to the ocean. In fact, I could taste it.
I wasn’t a fan of the eggplant being cold and it was a bit itchy on my tongue, and the spiny lobster, squid and jellyfish were textures not for the faint hearted, especially those who disliked eating slippery food. The plate holds perhaps the best sushi I have ever had in my life.
Binchotan – A Powerful Scent of the Charcoal Grill
Famous Swimming Ayu Refreshingly Presented
And powerful scent indeed. There was an art, reverence and ritual to each sanctuary of Ayu presented to each table, with bells tinkling that perhaps gave such importance to the Ayu. The Swimming Ayu is an eel, grilled on white charcoal alive until its death, and is one of Seiji Yamamoto’s summer masterpieces that made him become famous.
The taste? Bitter, salty and toasted. It was out of this world and I didn’t know this could be possible. The texture? To those who aren’t accustomed to eating a fish’s head, you might want to try any fish’s head first before you can eat the Ayu as its tricky to eat. The whole of the eel, 16 cm long, has to be consumed from head to tail in order for your experience to be enjoyable, with the tail being dipped in Benitade sauce, or watermelon red capsicum sauce, that’s sour in taste.
Symbiosis of the Duck and Onion, Like Hunting Traditional Stoneware
Summer Duck, Onion and Watercress, RyuGin’s Famous Pickled Fruit with Ginger
This is the best dish I ever had at RyuGin. Duck. Simply duck. Although, nothing can ever be simple with duck. One way or another, duck will always be eaten with such importance that at RyuGin, strips of medium rare duck lying on extremely hot stoneware topped with acidic pickled fruit with ginger.
And my French server poured thick and sizzling hot duck broth over the dish, until I realize, there was a perfectly poached egg sitting on top of my duck. “Please break the poached egg open and enjoy the duck with the egg yolk.”
I couldn’t be more ecstatic. Two of my favorites – Duck and Egg – into one dish. The duck eventually cooked in the stoneware and it was knee breaking delicious, juicy, fatty and tender in texture. I am simply lost for words.
1/100,000 Miracle Large Wild Eel – Longing for the Eternity of this Treasure
Kabayakidon Style, Miso Soup and Pickles
When in Japan during August, be sure to eat Kabayakidon, or Unagi with rice. I don’t have to search for the best Unagi in Tokyo, because at RyuGin, the Unagi I am eating is a wide eel that exists only 1 out of 100,000 eels in the whole ocean.
By this time, I was extremely full for dinner, except I will always have room for the best Unagi in the whole of Japan. Topped in a fluffy bed of rice, hot miso soup and Sencha green tea, perhaps it is the most expensive comfort food I can ever eat.
Taking a Break with Pickled Apple
To wash my palate, I was given picked apple, sour and refreshingly cold once again.
Lusciousness – Coolness, Playful Spirits, Nostalgia and Temptation
If there was anything entertaining at RyuGin, it is Chef Seiji Yamamoto’s signature Candied Fruit, frozen at -196 degrees with liquid nitrogen. At my time of visit, it was grape.
My French server asked me to eat the fruit beside it first, then cracked the candied grape next. Out came grape powder and she poured more fresh grape fruits on it. I found it reminiscent of my childhood, as the grape powder turns out to be exploding powder. I wondered then if the exploding powder was made from scratch. It was delightful.
The menu says Feathery Bracken Starch Dumpling, but I understand Warabi Mochi better. Three cubes of powdery, custard filled coconut, chocolate and matcha Warabi Mochi was plated before me. After my experience at RyuGin, I was scouring Tokyo for great Warabi Mochi but nothing came close to this.
I loved every bite of it.
The whole 10 course degustation ended with a bowl of hot, creamy and foamy Matcha Latte. It tasted bitter, but a fulfilling end to the entire meal.
When I was finished settling my bill, I was escorted out by the French server and moments later, Chef Seiji Yamamoto himself. I was so awestruck at seeing him in person I didn’t know what to say, and bowed deeply before him instead. I now regretted not taking a picture with him. But then again, I would certainly head back to RyuGin once again. It’s one of those you can scratch from your bucket list but end up putting it back again simply because it was memorable.
For those curious to try Chef Seiji Yamamoto’s ala carte cuisine, RyuGin also serves dishes from the menu starting at 9:30pm, if you aren’t up for the whole 10 course degustation, and if there’s seating available. The whole course is priced starting at 27000 yen plus 10% for service charge. If you choose to have sake or wine pairing, you could go as far as 50000 yen per visit.
Dining at RyuGin made me felt thankful to have experienced such an amazing journey through Japanese cuisine. My trip to Tokyo wouldn’t be complete without it. I do note that while RyuGin served modern Kaiseki Ryori that enriched the culture of Japan, I found it slightly European in technique, particularly with the poached egg. The ambience was elegant as expected but the degustation was nothing but ordinary. Service was impeccable; it’s worth noting that the French staff was almost invisible and I was surprised that she would come out of nowhere to get my next dish. I think, that’s what makes a good customer service.
I would be delighted to go back to RyuGin and let Chef Seiji Yamamoto delight my senses once again.