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My culinary Tokyo

Conductor and restaurateur Joji Hattori gives us a tour of his favourite restaurants in Tokyo. From traditional Japanese cooking to modern fusion cuisine – every encounter reveals a culture committed to perfection.

Text:
Cyrill Gerber
Photos:
Christoph Kern
L

”life is too short to miss out on great Tokyo food!”

The city of Tokyo, a metropolis of 35 million inhabitants, is packed with culinary highlights. Counting 12 three-star restaurants and a further 214 boasting one or two stars, Tokyo has more Michelin stars than Paris and New York combined. 

 

Most Japanese restaurants specialise in a certain type of food, such as sushi, tempura, Wagyu, eel, noodles or tofu dishes. The master chefs hone their art to serve their specialisation, attempting day after day to perfect the dishes of their particular tradition. A tempura master, for example, would never cook meat. The only exception are the exclusive kaiseki restaurants, which serve a sequence of small dishes covering the entire spectrum of Japanese cuisine.

On the way to perfection

Devotion to food and the will to perfection are also what drive Joji Hattori. In 2015, the conductor and violinist opened a restaurant in his adopted hometown of Vienna – the SHIKI, which serves Japanese-European fusion cuisine. Already, the restaurant located near the Vienna State Opera has become widely known for its excellent cooking, thoughtful décor and elegant ambience. But far from resting on his laurels, Hattori strives for continuous improvement. Taking the next step on the path to perfection, the conductor invited his two head chefs Alois Traint and Gerhard Bernhauer to join him on a culinary journey of inspiration to Tokyo. Here, the two master chefs explored traditional and contemporary Japanese dishes in search of new ideas to take their own cuisine in Vienna to new heights. We were lucky enough to accompany the professional gourmets on their trip

At the three-star restaurant RyuGin, 12 chefs under the direction of owner-chef Seiji Yamamoto prepare a kaiseki dinner of seasonal delicacies, elaborately arranged in small servings, for a maximum of 24 guests. The head chef exercises his art not in order to distinguish himself but rather to express the diversity and beauty of Japan’s nature through his cooking. For full enjoyment, we recommend a sake pairing with the meal!
Every morning at the Tsukiji fish market in central Tokyo, restaurants buy the day’s catch: around 450 different kinds of fish and seafood. Nowhere in the world is seafood as fresh and available in such a variety as here, from gigantic tuna to eels to an assortment of clams and fish roe. A visit to Kappabashi Street to purchase traditional crockery will allow you to present the fish in a fitting manner.
Enjoy a sushi breakfast on the edge of the fish market, or buy a bowl of ramen at Tokyo’s famous street food stand Chuka Soba Inoue. This traditional meal of wheat noodles served with chashu (pork) and menma (bamboo shoots) tastes delicious and leaves you feeling warm, but light. The perfect choice for a quick meal on the street.
Silk kimonos (not to be confused with yukatas) are still considered very valuable pieces of clothing and are frequently passed down through the generations. The two-star restaurant Daigo also values tradition and serves Shojin cuisine that is completely free of animal products, according to the customs of Buddhist monks. A place of contemplation and pleasure in the heart of the city!
Omakase is a meal consisting of a series of dishes selected spontaneously by the chef. In a private room at Sushi-Ken, Sushi master Shinichiro Miyamura spends hours skilfully filling tray after tray with the best seasonal ingredients. In his devotion to his profession, he resembles a Samurai warrior, still modestly referring to himself as an apprentice after 25 years of experience.
It can take several years before an apprentice in a sushi bar is allowed to fillet tuna for the first time. When the time comes, he performs the task with his own personal knife. Alois Traint, head chef at SHIKI, finds a suitable instrument in a small branch of Nenohi (mainly for professionals) not far from the fish market. For non-professionals, we recommend seeking the competent assistance of one of the vendors on Kappabashi Street.
The Grand Hyatt hotel offers excellent restaurants and bars in an international ambience, true to the motto: East meets West. Here, gourmets find everything the heart desires: Peking duck at the Chinaroom, or a kaiseki dinner with seasonal specialities at the Shunbou. Meat lovers are in for a treat at the teppanyaki restaurant, where Wagyu (such as Satsuma, Kyoto or Kobe beef) is grilled on a hot plate.
At the small restaurant Vino Hirata, head chef Kunihiro Niho combines Italian dishes with Japanese ingredients in surprising ways – risotto with cuttlefish liver, for example. In a neighbouring district, the wine bar Tsubaki boasts an impressive selection of fine European wines. We top off our experience with a black-truffle-and-honey-coated strawberry to go with our wine – an evening full of delectable surprises.
The family of the owner and head chef of the restaurant Sarashina-Horii has been in the noodle business for more than two centuries. The family lent its name to the Sarashina-Soba, a light-coloured noodle made from refined buckwheat flour. Every day in a tiny room next to the kitchen, buckwheat is ground into flour and the dough cut into delicate strips by hand – just like 200 years ago!Type image caption here (optional)
A stylish décor, an international ambience and culinary fireworks: At the Michelin-starred restaurant La Bombance, head chef Naohiro Watanabe combines modern Japanese cuisine with a variety of international elements to remarkable effect. The basil sorbet with mangoes, tomatoes and sweet peppers accompanied by mozzarella and miniature potato crisps is a particular highlight – a Japanese take on Caprese, so to speak!
At the Michelin-starred restaurant Tempura Mitsuta, the bustle of the city is soon forgotten. For 37 years, head chef Takeo Morita has been cooking tempura dishes in this restaurant that resembles a private residence, honing his culinary art to perfection and delighting his guests. The meal in a cosy atmosphere is accompanied by beer, tea or sake. Visitors who fancy taking a bottle of sake home as a souvenir can purchase one in the extensive sake department of the glamorous department store Matsuya in Ginza.
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