Tokyo has more Michelin starred restaurants than any city in the world, with 15 restaurants now possessing its coveted three-star rating. One of them is Kojyu, a restaurant with just eight seats at a countertop, located in the fashionable Ginza district. The chef and owner, Tooru Okuda, places his business card in front of you upon your arrival, an act as deeply and authentically Japanese as the Kaiseki food to follow.
The serene, minimalist interior is completely paneled in blond wood. There is a grill on the left-hand side at which one of the eight staff members is usually grilling items such as barbecued eel on skewers. As is typical in Kaiseki meals, the servingware is astoundingly beautiful and varied. Much of it is the work of a nonagenarian master potter in the Saga prefecture named Kojyu Nishioka for whom Kojyu is named. The Kaiseki focus on presentation and seasonality was also observable in the basket of beautiful, colorful fall leaves that Okuda continually dipped into to embellish the dishes.
Watching a chef of Okuda’s caliber up close and the meticulous way in which he prepares the food is a rare opportunity, one of the many blessings bestowed by the countertop bar approach to dining that is employed by many of Japan’s finest restaurants. The intimacy creates a deep communion with the chef and makes the meals more interactive and personal.
The food is in many ways the opposite of Takazawa’s. Although Kojyu also uses the finest ingredients and serves dishes requiring an equal amount of technical precision, Kojyu is completely devoid of flamboyance and theatrics. The restaurant has a reputation for restraint, but one can still feel the vibrations of Okuda’s passion behind the simplicity.
The first course included shrimp and monkfish liver, followed by a Japanese spider crab smothered with fresh roe that, to our Western palettes, was a little bizarre.
Next was a dashi with a dumpling composed of scallop, white fish, egg and mouse. The dish was aromatic, technically impressive and delicious.
A sashimi course of unbelievably fresh bluefin tuna, squid and red snapper followed, served with flaps of the snapper’s skin. We were instructed to dip one of the pieces of squid in soy sauce and sprinkle the other with the provided salt and sudachi citrus to create two different expressions of the same fish. The bluefin tuna was the most magnificent, buttery, sublime tuna sashimi we have ever tasted. Nor can we recall tasting a finer red snapper. Okuda uses a sharkskin grater in front of you to produce dollops of the fluffiest, mildest wasabi paste we have ever tasted. The reason the wasabi is so soft textured is that it has been plucked from the water that morning (apparently, the longer wasabi is out of the water, the more intense it becomes).
The next course was probably the highlight of our meal: Japanese lobster on one side and a miso-glazed, perfectly cooked fish on the other that Okuda said was “manakatsu”, a very expensive fish available only in the winter season, with tatami iwashi (a sheet-like cracker of dried baby sardines) on top. The lobster is grilled over binch?-tan charcoal, basted with a thin layer of uni batter, then fried tempura style.
Next was a simple course of radish, potato, fish roe and yuzu and then a Japanese specialty: barbecued eel and rice, served alongside a miso soup. We have never had barbecued eel and rice like this and don’t expect to ever again.
We were then given green tea and a dessert of brown sugar ice cream with a sesame paste and persimmon.
Throughout our dinner, Okuda exuded friendly warmth and enthusiasm, running over to show us pictures in a heavily tabbed book of the exotic fish or crustacean we had just been served. When I ordered another glass of Champagne and the bottle ran out just before the glass was quite full, Okuda, who is also a certified sake taster and sommelier, gave it to me on the house. He similarly repeatedly topped up other diners’ sake glasses from massive bottles at no additional charge. That kind of hospitality appears to be a consistent theme of high-end Japanese restaurants, something American restaurants could learn a lot from.
Kojyu is a restaurant of quiet beauty – from the hushed interior of blond woods to the understated but masterful servingware (Kojyu Nishioka’s pottery sells for many thousands of dollars) to the simple, restrained preparations that bring out the pure essence of each ingredient, the restaurant is the apotheosis of the minimalist aesthetic, a testament to the heights that Kaiseki cuisine can achieve in the hands of a master craftsman. Kojyu lives up to its name.
4-8 Carioca 5-chome Bldg 4F Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
+81 03 6215-9544 Mon-Sat, noon-1pm, 6pm-9:30pm
- Toru Okuda, Chef
- Best Decor
- Best Service
- Chef's Table
- Private Dining Room Tatami Room: 6 seated Private Dining Room 1: 4 seated Private Dining Room 2: 4 seated
- Tasting Menu Dinner Tasting Menu: ¥26,250 Lunch Tasting Menu: ¥21,000
- Michelin Guide : ★★ (2015) Review History...