RyuGin, Tokyo

April 15, 2010

Difficult-to-please restaurant blogger Chuck wrote a year ago of his meal at RyuGin that it would “rank alongside L’Arpege, Pierre Gagnaire, El Poblet, Michel Bras, and Noma for the absolute essentials of world-class eating.” Other bloggers whom I also respect have raved about it. So naturally Linda and I had to try RyuGin during our Tokyo stay and went there for dinner on April 10, 2010.

The name means “The Dragon,” which pursues evil and brings good fortune. The theme of the restaurant is “to pursue the possibilities of Japanese cuisine.” Recent reports were that Chef Seiji Yamamoto, previously known for bringing modern European “molecular” cuisine to Japan, had reverted to a more traditional style.

Even though Ryugin is tucked away in a little side street, Linda and I had no trouble walking to it from the Roppongi subway station using the map from the restaurant’s website. The dragon theme is everywhere, starting by the front door. The dining room, redecorated last year, has a wall-sized dragon painting. The opposite wall is hung with large ceramic Chinese plates decorated with dragon motifs. There were plates with dragons in front of us when we sat down at our table. When lifted, underneath we found a little elegantly printed menu of the day in English. Only a gastronomic menu at ¥ 23,100 is offered until after 9:00 pm when a small plate, à la carte menu is available. The sommelier came by and we ordered glasses of Henriot Champagne. They refreshed and set up our palate. We told him that we would like sake after that. He brought four bottles, described them and said that he would pour a glass from each for us. Two had amusing labels mimicking French wine bottles. He recommended wine glasses and we agreed; Linda thought they were an excellent idea; at some other tables a tray with a choice of lovely rough ceramic cups was offered.


The first course was
Chef Yamamoto’s interpretation of
Spring “Wakatake”
with Tender “Simmered Avalone.”

Winter bamboo shoots had been simmered until tender. The two mushrooms were terrific. There were shiso peppers and a sprinkling of ground sesame. Very good starter.

Second was
Premium Sea Urchin from HAKODATE
and Cold Egg Custard with Dry Shrimp Jelly Sauce.

This was just as described in the menu. It was sensational. The sea urchin and shrimp flavors really sang out. I have always loved the sea urchin panna cotta at Picholine, but this is in a much higher category. Bravo.

Ichiban Dashi Soup
with Lightly Grilled “Greenling” Fish
Colorful “Flower Style.”

The dashi was fresh and elegant.

Marinated “Sakura Sea Bream” from NARUTO
“Monkfish Liver” from YOICHI, HOKKAIDO
with Fragrance of “Sakura”

The sea bream had been covered with the steamed cherry leaf to add some flavor.There is a dab of cherry compote on the foie-gras-like liver. Both are in honor of the current cherry blossom (Sakura) viewing season in Japan, not of Washington’s Birthday.

“Baby Spear Squid” from AOMORI
with Fragrance of Sudachi

Small parts of the squid have been flavored with a Japanese citrus to make a stuffing for the body. It is then steamed, cut into thick rings and served on top of a soy and sake sauce. In French cuisine it would be called a ballotine. The flavors were nice, but the dish didn’t stand out.

Japanese Spring Vegetable in a Plate…

About twenty vegetables were nicely presented in a mound. Bonito granules processed with soy were sprinkled on top. There were two kinds of miso sauce on the bottom. We were instructed to mix everything up. To me that created an unpleasant mushiness. The flavors were nice and fresh, but there wasn’t enough of anything to make a statement. I was reminded of Michel Bras’ gargouillou, which is better because of its cleaner flavors. I have no idea what “Syunsaizukushi” means.

Charbroiled “Belly of Snapper”
Roasted Rice on top, with Black Vinegar sauce and
“Chopped Vegetable Pickles”

This was excellent. The roasted rice on top and the lightly pickled chopped vegetables underneath the lightly broiled piece of snapper were well matched enhancements of both taste and texture. In the back you can see sort of an omelet slice with a sweet and sour topping which provided a nice counterpoint.

At this point we had finished glasses of the four sakes first presented to us. We had enjoyed them and thought they were well matched with the dishes. Now we asked for another one which was even more substantial. It was terrific with force and complexity, like having a glass of Chateau Lafitte when the beef arrives.


Char-grilled “Sendai Beef” from MIYAGI
in Sukiyaki Style

The beef course was excellent. Closest to us are two slices of perfectly cooked lean Wagyu beef on a ponzu-based sauce. On the left is a cup of glutenous long-cooked “Achilles”, or beef tendon, shabu-shabu. On top is a “hamburger” of seared chopped beef topped with crunchy dried beef; this had an outstanding beef flavor. On the right was a cold potato soup with special greens that reminded me of a vichyssoise. 

Rice with “Sakura Shrimp”,
Miso Soup and Pickles Roll

The traditional rice toward the end of the meal was topped with excellent little shrimp which were eaten whole with it. The traditional pickles used to perk it up were, in this case, asparagus shards with sesame and superb little rolls with seven lightly pickled vegetables inside.
A cup of black tea was served with it.

We were then asked if we would like the optional noodle course, with a choice of hot or cold. The table next to us chose the cold, which were thick noodles, presumably soba, which they dipped into a cup of broth. We had the hot noodles, which were surprisingly thin. The dominant flavor was scallions and lime. They were served with a special Japanese pepper in a little crock. It was quite aromatic and quite hot.

A cup of green tea arrived in a dragon-motif cup.

The first dessert was
-196 Degree Celsius Candy Apple

The lovely little apple was made of an apple candy exterior and a very cold apple powder sherbert interior. We were instructed to break it open with our spoon. Apple chunks with apple jack were then spooned onto it. Very appley, which was the point, and very good. 

Hot Parfait RyuGin Style
Vol. 4 “YUZU”

This amazing dessert arrived with its own map attached to the purple cord. The cake and its serving dish were quite hot, which is why they needed their bib. The ice cream was still cold and the dessert was a nice medley of similar flavors with contrasting temperatures. It was not too sweet.


This frothed, powdered green tea was on the printed menu as the traditional end of the meal. Although I had already had two teas, I enjoyed this one, which seemed to be very high quality.

As we were leaving, the chef came out to ask how we liked it and what had brought us to his restaurant; he said we should come back as April is not the best season for ingredients in Japan.

The meal was extraordinary. The dishes ranged from sensational to very good. The quality of the ingredients was superb, despite the chef’s modesty about them. There are reports that RyuGin relies on foreigners, but we were one of only two non-Japanese tables. The little European and high-tech touches did not take away from the totally Japanese character of the cuisine and the ambience. The service was superb and the pace just right. Our key servers spoke good English. Tokyo is supposed to be very expensive, and we find that it is, but the total price for two was only ¥ 72,380, or about $800, which is very reasonable compared to the top restaurants in Paris or New York. I hope that Seiji Yamamoto’s international reputation continues to grow even though he has withdrawn somewhat from the world celebrity chef circuit.


7 Responses to “RyuGin, Tokyo”

  1. yukarisakamoto Says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your dinner. Chef Yamamoto has returned to the classics and it is beautiful what he is doing. Cheers!


  2. Grody Matthew Says:

    Having read your recent posts, I thought that this might interest you :


    Have a fantastic trip in Japan and I look forward to reading your future endeavours!

  3. ChuckEats Says:

    I like that i’m “hard to please” 🙂 i had another meal this past fall that i haven’t blogged about – it didn’t live up to my initial experience – but I’m glad to see a) you enjoyed your meal and b) how different your meal is.

    I had that beef – best beef i’ve ever had – remarkable!

  4. Connie Buckley Says:

    Only $800???? I’m so glad we’re friends. At least I get to see (vicariously) how the “other half” lives!!

  5. S Lloyd Says:

    I have to confess that Ryugin is one reason behind my lately strong wish to indulge in a Japan’s foodie trail. Would you know what Months/seasons are considered as providing better ingredients (since the Chef stated that April was not strong in that department) in Japan?

    • Michael Says:

      I think he was implying that in summer he has a wider range of fresh vegetables. But I doubt that there is that much difference. I would recommend coming in cherry blossom time, early April, or during fall foliage season. It can get uncomfortably hot and humid in Tokyo in summer and cold in winter.

  6. cindy Says:

    It really reassures me to see what the chef is serving such different dishes even though we only went half a year apart. It’s also interesting that while the Yuzu Parfait is vol. 4 at the time of your meal, but is already vol. 11 by the time I went! I’m a bit sad to see that you got the detailed construction drawing but we didn’t…anyway, great post and thanks for sharing.


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