Monday, November 24, 2014

Yoshihashi: Michelin starred sukiyaki in Tokyo, Japan

Japan is reputed to have more Michelin starred restaurants than all of France. And many, many more who refuse to be listed. I suspect this little, gem of a sukiyaki haven in Motoakasaka is one where the owners probably do not care about the Michelin star that it adorns. Nowhere on the premises is the star displayed, unlike European establishments where it is prominently displayed at the entrance.

Yoshihashi's entrance has no such display. But if great sukiyaki is what you seek, this is the place for it.

Situated in a cul de sac in the quiet neighbourhood of Motoakasaka, just a stone's throw from the Emperor's Akasaka Palace, the restaurant is not easy to find. The entrance itself, is nondescript. Only a small sign, in Japanese announce the name of the restaurant, and that of the Oasis Bar, just next door. Japan Times calls it a "favourite among Japan's captains of industry, as well as ranking bureaucrats and political bigwigs from nearby Nagatacho."

But within, is another story. Elegant does not begin to describe the interior. As one enters the ante room leading to the main dining room, one is greeted by a magnificent view of the Japanese garden.

We arrived at 11:25am to ensure a spot (it opens at 11:30am), as they do not take reservations for lunch. The lunch time menu, like many top Japanese restaurants feature a lower cost and less elaborate version of the evening meal. In the case of Yoshihashi, the dinner sukiyaki set is ¥20,000 and up. But lunch is offered at ¥2,100 and ¥3,150 for the premium sukiyaki set. 

We had read that lunch was limited to 16 bar counter seats, but when we arrived, we were shown into one of the two the private rooms. each can probably seat 10, given the 10 cushons on the tatami. But the restaurant was not totally full, and we occupied one room with two other ladies who were also tourists. The other room was occupied by 6 Japanese ladies who lunch. 

The long table with an opening to slot one's legs into, in case one is not adept at the Japanese style sitting with one's legs folded under self. The room itself was superbly minimalist and elegant. 

The menu was in Japanese only, though the kimono clad waitress spoke a little English. But we knew what we wanted. We ordered both the regular sukiyaki set as well as a premium sukiyaki set.

And it was served about 10 minutes later. Top two sets in their copper bowls where the sukiyaki was cooked in are the regular sets, and the lower right one is the premium set. A large pot of steamed rice, was offered on an unlimited basis. And Japanese green tea.

For dinner, the sukiyaki is cooked at the table by your waitress, who also whips the egg white stiff with a pair of chopsticks while the yolk remains undisturbed below. For lunch, the sukiyaki is cooked in these copper pots in the kitchen, and one is left to one's own devices on how to eat it.

But it is easy. First beat up the egg...unless one is trained to do so, just a messy stirring with the chopsticks will do the job. Then pick up the beef with your chopsticks and en-route to your mouth, dip it in the raw egg.

The premium beef tasted sublime. The term, melts in your mouth with powerful, earth shattering umami is overused...but is definitely what applies here. The beef is packed with flavour, all the beefiness, all the tenderness. Very lightly flavoured by the Yoshihashi house blend warishita sauce and the almost begining to cook raw egg. Sublime. 

The regular set features more or less the same, but the beef was more lean. I actually preferred the leaner regular cut, less richness, but a bit more bite to the meat. Accompanying the thin strips of beef, were cubes of grilled tofu, chunks of onions and negi leeks, shimeji and shiitake mushrooms, shungiku (edible chrysanthemum) greens and transparent, chewy shirataki noodles. 

This is easily not only the best sukiyaki I have eaten, but also one of the best beef I have tasted. Truly magnificent, and definitely a must eat everytime in Tokyo. 

1-5-25 Motoakasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo

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