Having teased you with mention of it a while back, here, finally, are some really bad photos of my not-that-bad meal at Ryugin in the back streets of Roppongi, Tokyo.
But first, on the controversial subject of photographing your dinner: it's really naff, annoying for other diners (I didn't use a flash, but, still, no one wants to see photographic hardware while they are eating), and, well, common. But, as with talking on my phone while driving and being bitchy about people behind their backs, some rules are just for other people. Besides, as the appalling quality of my photos attests, I take them in an unseemly hurry before getting down to the important business shovelling food down my cake hole.
RyuGin has just been voted the 48th best restaurant in the world, one of only two Japanese restaurants actually in Japan to feature in the much discussed list published by Restaurant magazine and overseen by Observer restaurant critic and super-suave man about town, Jay Rayner.
I've had my tuppence ha'penny about the list already and when Jay kindly showed up to my Asia House Festival of Literature thing to promote my book a while back, he gamely defended it, pointing out that it was just a list and not to be taken so seriously. He added that, for a restaurant to be included, several of the judges have to have visited it that year, which is difficult for a far-off destination like Tokyo (though does present another obvious question: how do so many of the judges manages to get to eat at El Bulli? If they have any tricks to getting a reservation, I'd love to know).
Anyhoo, back to the number 48 on the list, which also has two Michelin stars. I knew vaguely what to expect having seen the chef, Seiji Yamamoto, give a demo at Tokyo Taste in 2009 – it was going to be rooted in classical kaiseki, but with contemporary twists. And so it was.
What I didn't expect was for it to be such a hit and miss affair. There were astonishing highs – monk fish liver, and the sashimi for instance, and some surprising lows: over-cooked fish; a dashi which for my uneducated gaijin palate was borderline bland; over-sugary desserts. The room was also a little disappointing. Small, dark and, though decorated with what were probably heinously expensive antique Chinese porcelain dragon plates ('ryu' means 'dragon'), just a bit dowdy I'm afraid.
(The monkfish liver is on the right, poached (or marinated raw?), and with exactly the colour and texture of foie gras. Staggering. I'm going to be hoovering the monkfish liver up at my fishmongers from now on.)
More happily, the service was impeccable without being over formal. They knew when to be chatty, and when to let me eat, which is just what you are looking for when you dine alone.
At the end of the meal, Yamamoto-san graciously came out to say hi and, in the Japanese tradition, he and the maitre'd stood outside on the pavement to see me off, which was lovely of them and makes me feel a little guilty for dissing them so.
If you are in Tokyo, I promise you won't be disappointed overall by a meal at Ryugin, but I wouldn't say it was the best restaurant in Tokyo, and probably not the 48th best in the world.
Ooh, this online restaurant criticism is tough, isn't it? I feel really, really bad now. They were so nice to me, and everything. Oh well.