6 Best Western restaurants in Japan
Being blunt isn't the quality Asian people cherish. When it comes to Western restaurants, only a few people can stand my being so picky.
I'm sure I could be the least favorite diner for a Michelin reviewer who rated restaurants in Paris, as I only liked five out of ten three-star restaurants in Paris in the red guide. (As of January 2019, the list shrank to nine restaurants without the one on Rue Beethoven.)
After my most favorite French restaurant in Asia closed on Valentine's day in 2018, I have rarely had authentic French food in Asia.
I felt I hadn't encountered any chef of French cuisine in Asia whose food spoke to me. I have been searching for a good French restaurant in Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai,
and Seoul but without much luck. Then, nowhere else but Japan could have the best Western restaurants or at least Western-inspired cuisine with
local ingredients. There are so many talented Japanese chefs outside Japan. My favorite one is Chef Sota Atsumi in Paris, who made Clown Bar the hottest dining destination. If you visit famous French restaurants in big cities, big-name French chefs are head over heels for Japanese cooking techniques.
On one of my recent visits to a famous restaurant in Paris, I had even been served Aloe Vera sushi before I could finish my meal there.
Without further ado, please allow me to share my experience visiting six Western restaurants in Japan (four French, one Italian, and one Spanish). These aren’t Yoshoku restaurants although most of them are either Western-inspired, combining Japanese techniques, or feature local ingredients.
When I walked into L'Effervescence, I was stunned by the decor, which is quite meticulously crafted. Even the waiters are meticulous!
Not a wrinkle on their suits—and it looked like they had had intensive training. I had heard the chef, Namae-san, was highly respected in the chef community, and some chefs I’ve met are in awe of the depth of Namae-san’s knowledge of the science of cooking.
My meal started with welcome sake in a golden cup, which came as a surprise as I hardly expected sake in a French restaurant. The golden cup was superb. The amuse-bouche was good, and I would be lying if I said there’s nothing here to write home about. The signature dish here is four-hour cooked Tokyo turnip. The turnip was soft and at the right temperature. Visually, it’s quite beautiful, but I didn’t like it. I liked the grated Daikon with grilled fish.
Grated daikon radish in tempura sauce: this 4-hour cooked Tokyo turnip is quite beyond my comprehension. I don’t mean to say that it’s not good, since many other people seemed to enjoy it. It’s just not quite my cup of tea. Talking about the team, my meal ended with matcha, freshly brewed right in front of my table by one of the staff who went through a proper tea ceremony training. I wasn’t sure if I would be expected to follow the routine by rotating the face of tea bowl away before I drank it. Since the staff left after serving, I skipped all the formalities and just enjoyed my matcha with petit four.
My guess was that the tea brewing part was merely for dramatic effect. If you have visited Kimoto, you can notice that Kimoto-san smoothly served his matcha in the tea ceremony routine. I felt it conveyed the subtle meaning if you pick up the nuance. As for the pastry by the end of the meal, this is known as a petit four; petit four means small oven – in the olden days, French bakers used the oven during the cooling-down period to bake some small bites for the diners to enjoy after their meal. It doesn’t mean four little pieces of pastry, so don’t ask for four pieces if you get less than that.
The meal here was like a culinary journey, starting with Japanese alcohol, going through the path with high-quality Japanese ingredients, before ending with tea.
Booking is friendly for foreigners, with website and online booking made available via opentable.com for free. You can also book via Pocket Concierge for a fee. Booking
in Japan is always a challenge, and thus I always yearn for convenient online booking services. Not many people are aware that OpenTable includes restaurants like L’effervescence, Mikawa Zesankyo, or Quintocanto, so it doesn’t hurt to check a particular restaurant’s information, as your restaurant of choice may offer such service.
In sum, I would recommend a visit here if you like French-inspired cooking and formal service.
I truly admire Chef Kawate, and many chefs that I know also praise his talent. Beyond his cooking skill, I applaud his philosophy. I’m one of those who believe in reducing food waste, fighting hunger and preserving the environment.
I have visited Florilège a number of times, so I have had the chance to try many dishes. I loved the baked potato in the hay.: the potato has a lovely texture with an aromatic smoke.
The beef from the breeding cow that was beyond breeding age got the deep flavor. Usually, any high-end restaurant would reject these kinds of sustainable ingredients.
The oyster dish is beautifully plated. The oysters were fresh and plump.
One of the highlights was the non-alcoholic drink pairing. It was very creative. I love all the herbs and the flavor which complimented the meal so well. One of the drinks, inspired by Monet's painting, is visually stunning. I was captured by its beauty, and I felt as if I was transported to Musée de l'Orangerie after the first sip. I always recommend that friends give this a try. Most places have alcoholic drink pairings, but non-alcoholic drink pairings are rare.
His modern kitchen is enveloped by a U-shape counter, so diners can see all his actions up close. This is one of the most beautiful restaurants I have ever visited.
The modern decor, with the dark shade of the interior, is exquisite. This reflects Chef Kawate's great taste. The service is top-notch, even though it isn’t a small restaurant. The staff and the manager are so friendly. Chef Kawate is always very focused on his work and is always very busy in the kitchen. I prefer it this way, rather than the way some chefs on Asia’s 50 best Restaurants love to chitchat in the front. Chef Kawate would come out for a chat when he finishes his work by the time most of the guests leave. This place has a touch of wonderful Japanese hospitality.
Booking might be quite competitive, but it is not impossible. Just ask your hotel’s concierge to call as soon as they open for booking, around the 1st the month that is two months before the dining month.
Ode is a lovely new restaurant in Hiroo. My good Japanese friend kindly agreed to let me tag along. We visited when Ode had just opened.
At the end of the meal, my first remark was that Ode deserved at least one Michelin star. I usually don't say something like that just to please someone.
I thought the taste profile at Ode was pretty close to some of my meals in France. Ode baked good bread, all the dishes were nicely plated,
and it was a very good meal. I loved the spaghetti al nero di seppia, the black-ink pasta. Seppia, or cuttlefish, thrives in warm water. In Japan, they are called ikasumi, so they might use squid ink.The pink sauce is one of the most interesting pasta sauces, made from seppia’s black ink, garlic, olive oil, parsley, white wine, and pepper.
If you like black ink, I recommend a dish called cappuccino al nero di seppia whenever you come across this dish in a good restaurant. Anyway, back to the black ink pasta. There are two warnings: 1) don't forget to wipe your mouth regularly. I don't recommend ordering black ink pasta if you are on a date, especially if you don't know how to conceal the trace of squid ink. 2) For the next few days, don't look at your toilet bowl.
Ode has a U-shape counter, but it’s not a big restaurant, although it does have a private room that could accommodate about six guests.
The service is courteous and friendly. This place is very laid-back. The chef is amiable. Booking is possible via the hotel’s concierge. There is online booking via Ode's website, but everything is in Japanese.
Quintocanto is the only Italian restaurant on this list. I was surprised by the great value and ease of access. Online booking via Opentable.com is straightforward. This would make a perfect back-up plan if your first-choice restaurants in Kyoto or Osaka are not possible. Osaka is well known for easy food like okonomiyaki, takoyaki, etc. Still, some top restaurants in Osaka are harder to book than is the case in Tokyo. Quintocanto is a nice addition to the city, as one of the famous Italian restaurants in Osaka.
My meal started with an amuse-bouche. A tray of leaves was brought to the table before the guest can guess what the first bite is. The focal point of my lunch was pasta with fresh tomato, which comes in three sizes and one can choose according to his/her appetite. I wish more restaurants offered this option.
Reminiscence is on the shortlist of my favorite French restaurants in Japan. I liked everything here: the food, the service, the interior, and the chef. I would love to re-visit whenever I can. All the meals were superbly executed, with a solid French cooking technique plus unusual local ingredients.
I got a sense of perfect harmony in which there was no feeling that the chef was trying too hard. It's difficult to combine both of these, as you need to understand the cooking technique inside out and the quality of the local ingredients. All the dishes were cooked to perfection.
I am not often impressed by desserts, but the peach dessert got ticks in all the right boxes. The last dessert course I liked was Peter Gilmore’s famous snow egg. Reminiscence is playful, beautiful, and of the highest level of any dessert. The fresh peach taste burst in my mouth without being far too sweet. Aesthetically, I was so enchanted by how beautiful it looked. Its color was just mesmerizing.
The interior of Reminiscence was very clean, elegant, and airy, yet not too stiff, thanks to the top-notch staff. The lighting gave an excellent ambiance. The table had a perfect wrinkle-free white cloth. I couldn't help but notice their great-looking chairs. I was on cloud nine sitting in one of these beautiful chairs. Without having the first course, I was inclined to feel the promise of this establishment. When the food came out, it matched my high expectations. The layout was typical with the kitchen tucked in the back.
I would highly recommend Reminiscence if you are around the Nagoya area or just passing between Kanto and Kansei. If I travel around these two regions, I will make a detour to enjoy my meal at Reminiscence. Booking is possible via your hotel’s concierge.
6. Aca 1°
I heard that some Spanish diners said Aca wasn’t extremely authentic. I can understand where they are coming from.
I wouldn't say I agree or disagree, but I don’t care as long as the food is excellent. Although some natives question its authenticity, I have to say that Spanish food, except gazpacho and paella, is not my favorite, so a new perspective might shed new light. I appreciate 5J (Cinco Jotas, which is the product of the superior, acorn-fed Iberian pig breed in the Iberian Peninsula) that could be the Spanish answer to the Chinese Yunan ham. Nevertheless, I don’t really enjoy it. I visited some restaurants in Spain and Catalonia, from Madrid to Barcelona. Their cold cut is slightly too salty for my liking.
The standout dish at Aca is paella, a rice dish that originates in the Valencia area.
“V” is pronounced as “B” and “ci” is pronounced as “thi” here. I thought it would be more respectful to say these correctly. Typically, paella is cookedin a big pan, as the name of this dish suggests. Here, an individual portion is served with toppings of choice, e.g., sanma fish, shirako, crab, etc.
I tried both the sanma fish and the crab version. The meat is succulent while the rice is wonderfully cooked. The paella’s flavor is so rich that I started planning my next visit
after the first bite.
I can't say enough good things about Aca and its progressive take on Spanish cuisine. I regard young Chef Azuma as a true talent of our generation. My meal started with an amuse-bouche of gazpacho with Uni. I love gazpacho and never get enough of it. If you haven’t tried gazpacho, think of MULESHOE (물회), the popular cold soup that can be found in Sokcho. Gazpacho is a cold soup with tomato as one of its major ingredients. I recommend it. Aca is a must visit at least once although booking Aca is much much more difficult than booking either Eleven Madison Park or Brooklyn Fare at the chef’s table.
Booking is extremely competitive. You can try your luck at Pocket concierge or Omakase’s online booking service.
Local taste had taken a long journey searching for delicious meals long before the dawn of social media, roaming from one city to another from the Far East to the west, over 160 cities in four continents and more than 400,000 miles during the last 37 years.
His dining spots over thousands of restaurants range from eating in a hole in the wall in Asia to all ten Michelin 3-star restaurants in Paris. More than decades was spent on chasing for perfect xiao long bao.
Because he is not in food business nor food writer, his article won’t be found elsewhere but exclusively on tokyotabletrip.com as a tribute to Leo Saito’s altruistic deed to help international visitors discover the beauty of Japanese cuisine.