Dining in Tokyo can be at times a suffocating experience. Cancellation of your reservation is greatly frowned upon, and there are all sorts of dining manners you have to abide by. When I placed a dinner reservation at the world-renowned modern Japanese restaurant Ryugin in Roppongi district through the concierge service at a hotel I was staying at, I received a confirmation form from the restaurant that contained an extensive list of no-nos. You are, for instance, not allowed to wear any perfume (the restaurant specifically indicated that any dining group with a guest that wears one won’t be shown to the table). No phone calls inside the restaurant, and no flash when taking photos and no videos permitted to be taken. When I arrived at the restaurant, I asked to charge my phone but the staff politely declined (I’m thankful to this day that my phone didn’t die in the course of my meal so I was able to take the photos of all the dishes that I had eaten). For a New York diner who cares more about the quality of food than all the formalities of dining, I had to wonder whether Ryugin can actually be really worth all this fuss. Boy did this restaurant delivered. Chef Seiji Yamamoto’s modern take on traditional kaiseki multi-course Japanese cuisine is as good as it gets, and I’m so glad that I was able to make a stop at this restaurant. As a Korean, I even felt a bit of jealousy as I have yet to see a Korean chef deliver the type of sensational modern Korean cuisine like the way chef Yamamoto does for the Japanese counterpart.
Once I sat down, I was handed a large envelope with menu inside. Titled “Plating the Prodigality of Japanese Nature,” the menu had a list of 10 dishes (at 27,000 yen per person) with different themes and philosophies of Japanese dining. The course already started with a bang with an exquisite chawanmushi with firefly squid and young pea inside. I don’t think I’ve ever had chawanmushi with squid in it, but the ingredients worked perfectly together to create an awesome dish. Then came one of the most tender clam dishes I’ve ever had. The delicate preparation at Ryugin is something that I will not forget for a long time.
The prawn dumpling and abalone in soup format had the ethereal quality to it (quite aptly named “Taste of the Wine that Captures a Moment”). Following sashimi of rare delicacies such as red clam and fugu (the poisonous pufferfish) came one of the best seafood dishes I’ve had in a while. Grilled sea perch seasoned with sesame was just so wonderful, especially once I added mustard vinegar on top, perfectly cooked and having immaculate flavor. The light touch of fire made so much difference to this fish and I salivate to this day the wonderful textural sensation.
The meat department didn’t lag behind either. In fact, sanuki olive beef that came with season-fresh onion and olive asparagus is one of the best beef dishes I’ve had in a while, with incredibly juicy, tender meat that was grilled to perfection and with moderate seasoning that only further enhanced the wonderful texture of the dish. The savory part of the course ended with simmered rice flavored with cheery blossom tea and accompanied by sakura shrimp and “chrysanthemum” soup. It was another winner, with perfect texture of rice combined with the little shrimp that worked so beautifully with the soup.
The desserts at Ryugin were just as memorable. The simple-looking strawberry and sakura ice cream with brown sugar syrup underneath was so delightful that I wish there were more of it! The sake flavored desserts (one with ice cream and the other with custard-like cake) at the end were just as marvelous, with refined sweetness that just brings pure bliss to your palate without overpowering with heavy flavor. Ryugin turned out to be one of the best meals of my life, and the three-hour experience here was in a lot of ways life-changing in my culinary journey, showcasing how the use of fresh, seasonal ingredients with refined but not over-the-top techniques can make all the differences in the dishes.
The dining space at Ryugin is not large, so make sure to book way in advance to get a table at the restaurant. The restaurant has the modern and elegant décor that fits the color and philosophy of the kitchen. There are various wine and sake menus you can complement your meal with very well. The services were overall professional (but not necessarily warm and fuzzy as I had implied above) and my server generally spoke fluent English. Ryugin represents the apex of modern Japanese cuisine at its best, and I would definitely come back at some point in my life to again explore the profound depth and complexity of chef Yamamoto’s wonderful food. It is an experience I won’t forget in a long time.
- Creativity: 9.5/10
- Execution: 10.0/10
- Ingredients: 9.5/10
- Flavor: 9.5/10
- Texture: 9.0/10
Address: 7-17-24 Roppongi, Minato Ku, Tokyo