Back from Japan, so here's my review of the restaurants visited. I don't speak Japanese and am not the most experienced in Japanese food, so please take all these reviews as uninformed. I was a bit worried about how easy it would be to find some of these places before I went, but with a bit of research on google street view matching the pictures in the michellin guide and a good map it turned out to be mostly pretty easy, so I ended up arriving pretty early at most places, but this didn't seem to be a problem for any of them.
These were all dinners with the top available menu selected.
Many of his dishes have something extra to them, rather than just fish, rice, wasabi/soy. There has been some discussion of his rice, but I liked the red vinegared rice very much.
There were 7 sashimi/non sushi courses first. A couple of these were the 'only in Japan' types which I sometimes find difficult including a dish of baby eels about 3 cm long which were actually impossible to chew, they escaped your teeth. I think the trick is to swallow them without chewing. The other being baby shrimps which were similarly translucent, but a bit easier to handle. The highlight of the sashimi for me was the bonito which was amazing. Very lightly seared on the outside with a little soy and I think some mint. The octopus (slices from a fully grown octopus but extremely tender) and the snapper were also very nice.
Then 13 pieces of sushi served one at a time. 3,4,5 were three types of tuna. The very fatty tuna was the best I have ever had. It actually melted in my mouth in a way no other has. Finished with unagi and miso soup, I don't usually find unagi that interesting (having only had the cheap stuff) but of course here it was very good.
I liked the way he had all his ingredients in wooden boxes, the ingredients were clearly presented during the preparation which was done on the counter which was on a level to allow customers to see everything that was going on. Yoshitakesan did speak English and was happy to explain the ingredients but a few of them were beyond his powers to describe and beyond mine to identify. All in all, an enjoyable 2 1/2 hours but not the meal I enjoyed best in Japan.
This was only 1 star, but was the meal I enjoyed the most. The chef is quite young and good looking and he prepares the dishes with some flair. He had managed to get his hair to look like a Japanese version of Gordon Ramsey :)
This was also the only restaurant that had background music (light smooth jazz) but is wasn't intrusive. A nice touch was that if you order sake, the waiter comes round with a tray of vessels of all kinds for you to choose your own, and each new sake you order you get another choice of drinking recepticle.
Started with an amuse bouche of white asparagus and other veg in a creamy sauce.
Next a miso flavoured custard with soy beans and little crisy balls.
Than a platter of sashimi, squid, tuna (chotoro I think as there were no lines of fat in it) and a white fish with a silver skin (herring?) with grated lime zest (one of Yoshitake's dished also had grated lime zest, so I wonder if this is a popular technique now. I'm not sure it's a great idea myself).
Then a soup with dashi stock (he used a pot to cook the dashi in and various ingredients, so it's involvement with various dishes evolved throughout the meal). Various Japanese veggies and celery. The starch was a soft white blob of something I've had before but can't remember what it is (it's not tofu). The whole was a very delicate flavour and enjoyable.
Next cold buckwheat noodles with a vinegared collection of veg cut into tiny 3mm cubes with a blob of fresh wasabi on top. This was excellent!
Next was a grilled sardine dish. I hesitate to call it sushi as there was about 4 times as much fish as rice and it came with a sweet potato mash ball and pickled veg on the side.
Then another broth dish with 3 main ingredients boiled in the dashi and some grated daikon on the side. The dumpling was great, it had some sort of tomato based stuffing that was delicious.
Then a dish of grilled vegetables including japanese sweet peppers with lighly seared beef. This was the low point in the meal for me as the beef was a bit chewy, but it had good flavour.
Finally rice and pickles. The rice had various seasonings in it and a lot of freshly grated ginger and was very good. Since they then served tea and took my chopsticks away, I thought this was it, but they then served a sweet which was a big blob of sweet kelp jelly dusted with icing sugar that had the consistency of slightly thick wallpaper paste but was delicious.
This was the only meal I had in Japan where I came away stuffed full with that sated glow. I think this guy has potential to work his way up the Michellin ladder if he buys some slightly more expensive meat/fish ingredients. It certainly felt like good value for money at 14k including various sakes and beer.
This was kushiyaki cuisine. I have to say that it more suited to an evening of boozing rather than dining. As such it was suprising to find they only had one sake and one type of beer on offer. The wine menu was more extensive and seemed to be what most patrons were going for. The idea is that the skewers keep coming until you say you are full. After 20 skewers, I wasn't full so I asked for 5 more. It turned out that he has 24 different skewers so this caused a bit of confusion. I would have liked to re-order some of the earlier items rather than go for the last 4 which weren't that great. The fish skewers were all very good especially the Scallops, clam, shrimp, salmon and octopus. Other items included, beef with curry sauce, bamboo shoot, burdock, yam, pumpkin, broad bean, cheese, a small whole fish, sea bream with green onion, herring and some other items that I was unable to determine. The chef will show you the pre-cooked skewer if you are interested to determine what it is.
The chef did offer me some bread, which I should have accepted because 24 very small single skewers (it would take about 3 to make up the content of a normal yakatori skewer) weren't enough for a filling meal in my opinion. I felt the need to go in search of rice when I left. Perhaps the idea is to get some early boozing done with a few skewers here, then go do some more boozing and then hit a ramen stand later on. Or perhaps just go for lunch.
This was also the quickest meal I had at about 1 hour.
I was looking forward to this, but the language barrier proved unsurmountable even though they have an English menu. You should really go here in a large group with at least one Japanese speaker to make the best of it. If you want one of their banquets you need to pre-order. I ended up having their eponymous miso chanko. Made with four types of miso, the broth was great and the ingredients added to it in the basic menu were all good, but it was sad that I couldn't get some more ingredients and try out their menu a little more extensively. Other customers decided to go with Ramen rather than chanko.
This was another classic Japanese counter restaurant like Hagazumi. I have to say that I probably had the most enjoyable night here. The assistant Chef has excellent English and one of the customers turned out to be her husband who spoke English even better and we chatted throughout the meal. The food was very good but not as good as Hagazumi in my opinion and with less prospect for improvement. The location in Gion was excellent, but be warned this is not an easy place to find, it's down a back alley in the warren of Gion and I had to get some on street help to find it even with all my maps and compass. If you are used to relying on a GPS you might find you miss your reservation time!
When it became clear I was interested in the contents of what I was eating, the Illustrated Encyclopedia of Japanese Food Items came out and much dictionary work and discussion ensued :)
It was nice to see them grating the wasabe freshly for each course that needed it. I couldn't see what they were grating it on, but I wouldn't be suprised if it was shark skin.
Meal contents were:
Baby squid with mustard.
Steamed Sushi with accompaniments (which was great and somewhat of a house speciality I gather. Reminded me of taste of glutinous rice steamed in lotus leaves that you get as Chinese dim sum).
Red snapper and eel with sea urchin.
Grilled Sea bream, clam on a shell with japanese peppers and white asparagus.
Wakame seaweed, tofu and bonito flakes with dashi broth. (Although simple Japanese fare, this was exceptionally good)
Whole fish and japanese pepper tempura (the fish tasted very strongly of liver which wasn't really to my taste).
Sweet potato dumpling stuffed with meat in a gelatinous broth with broad beans and some grated ginger on top.
Rice, pickles and miso soup. The rice was another masterpiece. The topping I think was tiny (1 cm long) fried baby eels and the rice was excellent.
The sweet was a fruit salad jelly in a cocktail glass.
Some of the descriptions above don't do justice to the complexity and presentation of these dishes which were all of extremely high quality.
I took photo's of almost everything, so I'll update if I ever upload them to anywhere.
As to the Sumo, that was a great day, but those good bento lunches need ordering in advance and you'll need a japanese speaker and a permanant address in Japan to get them, although I think there are some vendors who can provide this service from outside Japan. The bento boxes on sale at the venue are pretty poor, so you might want to bring in your own from outside (although this is technically not allowed).
The other food highlight was breakfast at Tsukiji Market. A full maguro platter at 7 am :)
That was more about the experience than the food quality though.