At first, Seiji Yamamoto was recognized for his avant-garde cooking in which he was capable of integrating modern and traditional cooking techniques as well as using local and (some) foreign ingredients. Chef Hamamoto of Ki-sho Singapore told me that period had been the most fantastic time of RyuGin Tokyo. Then in early 2010's onwards, (maybe in order to gain Michelin 3rd star) Yamamoto-san decided to change the direction of his flagship restaurant by exclusively using seasonal local produce and he would showcase more dishes that were grounded towards "traditional" kaiseki tradition - his creativity thankfully could still be seen from times to times. Yamamoto-san liked updating his omakase menu monthly, so for the regulars I suppose, it's very possible not to repeat the same dishes twice.
The menu was presented in the envelope with a stamp showing how many years the restaurant has existed (14 years in our case). Without further ado, our meal was as follow:
Summer Vegetables and Grilled Sweet Corn Soup - The beginning of the meal containing hot and cold 'sensations':
-The hot item was a bowl consisting of 7-8 different kinds of vegetables such as radish, fava beans, bamboo shoots, shiitake etc. plus pine nuts dressing. A variety of flavors and textures with tangy and nutty sauce
-I liked even better was the smooth and chilled soup with concentrated flavor and balanced sweetness from the corn. A pleasant start
Kesennuma Shark Fin and Abalone served with baby corn, mountain yam and egg yolk - A luxurious appetizer showcasing the "fukahire" whose taste was, I believe, an acquired one; the more prized aspect was its gelatinous and stringy textures. In addition, there was a bouncy awabi with subtle taste. The main flavor was derived from and tied together by the chicken stock 'sauce' while nagaimo's slimy texture provided an interesting accent - opulent & good
Seasonal Tradition of RyuGin (Ichiban Dashi): Awaji Pike Eel served with Kamonasu Eggplant, Water Shield and Green Yuzu - Soup and its dashi usually were the main test for the skills of elite Japanese chefs. Here, Yamamoto-san utilized the best seasonal Hamo in the owan. The dagger-tooth pike conger's white flesh was pretty, 'bloomed' like a flower. The fish beautifully absorbed the dashi's flavor. To add more depth and in contrast to the soft Hamo, the kitchen prepared: junsai having thin taste and jelly-like texture, gooey okra, juicy & tasty kamonasu and zesty yuzu. A well-executed soup with delicious dashi as well as hamo
Grace of Ocean Delicacy in 2 plates (from the Coast of Japan)
Part 1: The sashimi item was more creative than normal one. Here we had Akagai with Bafun Uni and Kamonasu. The marinated eggplant was quite flavorful; the short spines sea urchin was rich with umami taste albeit slightly bitter and lastly the ark shell clam was tender with subtle sweetness providing different texture and flavors. A hint of slight wasabi on top did not hurt ...
Part 2: There were a few layers here: at the bottom was Tougan, followed by Kuruma Ebi and Hotate jelly on top. By itself, the Ash gourd did not have much taste; instead, it soaked the sweet flavor of Tiger prawns and refreshing Scallop jelly. It was alright
Summer Festival of Japanese Cuisine - Swimming Ayu Fish highlighted the coming of Summer season. The Sweetfish was char-grilled and simply seasoned with salt; it's served with sauce made of watermelon, vinegar and some herbs. First, savor the crunchy and sweet head, then the crisp body with slight bitterness from the guts / innards - the sauce gave an extra punch to its flavor. Sweetfish could be consumed from head to tail, including the bone. Ayu was highly prized and I enjoyed it here though it's not my favorite kind of fish
Shima-no-Hikari Somen Noodle served with Amber Beef and Onion - The Somen (the thin noodles) was almost translucent; they provided solid 'support' for the Omi beef cheeks. The aged Amber beef was braised for a few hours resulting in stringy / soft texture and sweet flavors. The onions reduced any potential cloying taste ... the only protein coming from the meat in this dinner
Charcoal Grill "Unagi Eel" - Slowly grilled Unagi (from Binchotan's flame) were prepared meticulously - perfect with smoky & aromatic; crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. Large Eel was another Summer classic. At RyuGin, we could consume the Eels with a few options: tsume sauce (dark and sweet), shio salt, and citrus sudachi. There were also wasabi, to draw out more of Unagi's flavor, as well as egg-yam as a side dish. By itself, the Unagi was already pleasant
Awaji Pike Eel Rice served with "Chrysanthemum" soup and five colors Pickles - Japanese rice was very good; the deep-fried Hamo still had tender & tasty meat at the inside. My spouse and I managed to finish the whole Pike eel rice. The Shiso leaves might be underrated but quite essential to enhance the dish with their unique taste & aroma - grassy and some spearmint + basil flavors. The miso soup contained soft tofu in the shaped of Japan's national flower. The pickles (radish, coriander etc,) were ordinary
Part 1: Roppongi Pudding with Wasanbon sugar and ripe Mango - The pudding was smooth and sweet, combined with mild caramel ice cream and some Wasanbon sugar, supposedly the finest sugar in the nation. Plenty of sweetness in different degree with delicate textures
-Oyaki Souffle with Fig and Blueberry. The souffle was beautifully executed with light / feather-like texture having the right amount taste of fig and blueberry
-Yogurt ice cream and Oiri. The soft ice cream with crunch 'rice cracker' nicely complimented the souffle. Above average desserts by the standard of Japanese kaiseki restaurants
Both of us shared a small portion (1/4 bottle) of cold sake - Kokuryu Gin no 18 Junmai Daiginjo from Fukui prefecture. We enjoyed it very much. The sake was smooth, not overly rich, with elegant and distinct flavor. The wine and sake list were comprehensive for a non-French restaurant standard but as expected very pricey. RyuGin's dining room catered to serve 20+ diners at once and a few seats were used for 2 seating. The decor was simple with not-so-high ceiling and the dining room felt a bit hot in the Summer. Despite the minimal interior, one would enjoy plenty of valuable ceramic plates / china used to serve the dishes. The service was efficient and professional with relatively fast pacing - 5 min. with no food on our table almost never happened. Most staffs spoke fluent English as a few of them used to live in Canada & Australia. They were friendly and helpful but lacked of any personal touch. Thankfully the warm and amiable Seiji Yamamoto with whom I had some chats towards the end "improved" the impression of the restaurant's hospitality.
Nihonryori RyuGin was my only Japanese kaiseki meal for this trip. Overall, I liked this meal experience with plenty of delicious and quite creative dishes though nothing truly stood out or blew my mind. Perhaps, after 3 years of not returning to Japan, this meal (temporarily) satisfied my palate and crave of a 'real' kaiseki. For comparison, my meal at Tenku Ryugin was only marginally inferior to this dinner. Seiji Yamamoto managed to keep high standards towards all of his Ryugin restaurants. That being said, I would not mind returning here especially in the late Fall or early Winter when the restaurant has some special produce and knowing that as long as the restaurant opens, it's a guarantee that the legendary Yamamoto-san would lead at the kitchen. Here are the pictures, RyuGin Tokyo Summer '18
Food (and Wine): 95 pts
Service (and Ambiance): 93 pts