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Ryugin | Tokyo | Dec ’14 | “the fragrance of strawberries…”

25 Dec
  • Rating: 19/20
  • Address: Side Roppongi Bldg, 1st Floor, 7-17-24 Roppongi, Minato, Tokyo 106-0032
  • Telephone: +81-3-3423-8006
  • Price (all-in, including sake): 38,000 Yen ($316 at 100 yen = 0.83USD)
  • Value: 3.5/5
  • Dining Time: 160 minutes
  • Chef: Seiji Yamamoto
  • Style: Kaiseki
  • Michelin Stars: 3

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It is funny how your culinary memory works. When you have some dishes at the table, you remember them as good but not mindblowing. But then you reflect on it again, and you crave a dish more and more. A bun with strawberry, custard and red bean, brings out the fragrance of strawberries, the sweetness of each ingredient well-thought out, none overpowering the other two. A porridge with fugu and black truffles brings to mind both winter gruel and understated luxury. The dishes at Ryugin are some of the most memorable I have ever tried – wildly creative, the food some of the best in Tokyo.
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But the kitchen is overstretched. The RyuGin empire spans Tokyo to Hong Kong to Taipei. During my second visit, all tables had at least two seatings, some had three. This was due to guest demand to dine there. At such scale, service becomes more impersonal. The whole operation has a military precision to it, an example being smartly-attired front-of-house having earpieces to communicate efficiently with the kitchen. The meal here lacked a bit of personal touch. This is no fault of the front-of-house, who were very friendly, but rather of the strict timetable necessary to serve more customers.
Chef Seiji Yamamoto is one of the truly great chefs, but his RyuGin HQ feels like a commodified operation, which is frustrating because RyuGin is one of the places you go for truly innovative food. I would cut back on the number of seatings – leave the quantity business (if you must, which you shouldn’t) to your foreign branches, but the main Tokyo branch should be in the business of all-round quality.

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  • koro sake

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  • Sea Urchins Small Egg Custard
    • thin layer of chawanmushi, hard cod roe. Bafun Uni from Hakodate. (4.25/5)

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  • Grilled Cod Fish Milt and Turnip Puree
    • Turnip puree, grilled codfish milt. Turnip and milt seem a theme, I had it also at Kojyu . Cod milt is a luxurious, creamy pleasure, a sploosh of pure protein.(4.5/5)

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  • Lightly Boiled Vegetables with Premium Dried Mullet Roe and Dried Sea Cucumber
    • Red shiso, a similar taste to kinome (4.25/5)

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  • “Zouni” one step early… Matsuba Crab from San’in
    • The soup containing mochi rice cakes for new year’s (AKA zouni).
    • Ichiban dashi made two minutes before serving
    • Crab leg was skillfully “de-boned” of the hard plates, from San’in Bay – available from Nov to Feb. Thin layer of mochi covered a pillow of sweet crab meat. I loved the mochi pairing here

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    • Gold leaf has no taste (I’ve had it here and in the sake at Sushi Mizutani). I would be quite happy if it was just dispensed with. Apparently, gold leaf is a signifier of luxury that dates back from Japan’s go-go era in the 1980s – “Stories from that era [mid 1980s to end 1980s] are legendary […] Businessmen would think nothing of giving thousand of dollars in tips to a favourite hostess, asking little in return that she laugh coquetttishly at their jokes. They tell of people sprinkling gold leaf on their food like salt and pepper, a practice that – if truth be told – persists in some of Japan’s more upmarket restaurants to this day.” David Pilling, Bending Adversity: Japan and the Art of Survival.
    • (4.75/5)

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  • Winter’s Ocean Delicacy Displayed in 3 Plates
    • Hirame (turbot), ankimo, oroshi ponzu (4/5)
    • Abalone simmered with liver sauce, apple vinegar jelly, turnip (3.5/5)
    • Akagai (ark shell clam), hokkigai (surf clam), spiny lobster, squid, herring roe. Different textures of jelly, tied with very strong wasabi (4/5)

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  • RyuGin’s Christmas Chicken
    • Second stuffed chicken wing of the trip (after DENTUCKY at DEN) – shark’s fin and beef tendon.
    • The wing was super crisp, and it was impressive the filling was moist (4.25/5)

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  • Sea Perch from Nagasaki with grilled Eggplant; Fuki sprout with soy sauce and simmered mashed Taro Potato
    • Sea Perch impaled with grilled eggplant; Erringi mushroom chip, taro place
    • Delicious charcoal grill smell (4.5/5)

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  • Sanuki Olive Beef on Stoneware in Sukiyaki style combined with Foie Gras
    • I don’t think this dish was a success. But it was ambitious in a RyuGin way. It redefined sukiyaki by serving the beef and foie on an extremely hot plate, and then pouring the sukiyaki sauce on. We were to cut the egg to release the yolk over the beef.
    • The “buffer” was some simmered vegetables underneath the beef and foie, to prevent the stone from overcooking them immediately
    • The problem is that the dish is very time sensitive. Wait a minute, and the beef and foie became slightly overcooked (as mine did). The fattiness of the beef made overcooking less of a problem.
    • Sukiyaki sauce, nothing special. The dish sort of works, but the extreme high heat is a bit of a waste of ingredients, I feel. I applaud the ambition but this particular high-heat version I don’t think worked. (3.5/5)

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  • Luxurious Winter’s Rice Porridge with Blow Fish
    • Warm rice porridge, the heat activating the fragrance of shaved black truffle, fugu, egg
    • Really good rice dish  – it was my first encounter with warm porridge and truffles. This was a winner for me. (5/5)

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  • 2014 Winter Tale, Roppongi Pudding
    • Bottom: mango custard, Middle: citrus jelly (grapefruit, lime) and apricot liqueur, Top: Chantilly cream
    • Really good and refreshing (4.5/5) The normal Roppongi pudding (made with caramel) is apparently on sale a RyuGin for 800Yen each normally.

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  • Strawberry Special Sweet (5/5)
    • Toraya, two soft (pillowy would not begin to describe it) buns with strawberry and red bean paste, custard.
    • So simple, but the tartness of the strawberries (they were sweet too) was perfectly calibrated NOT to standout from the custard and red bean paste. They harmonized – and the entire bite was a magical taste of strawberries, fragrance et al…

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Stag-gering to a watering hole…

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