Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Gordon Ramsay in Tokyo and the Michelin inspectors

Yesterday in Tokyo, living a Travelife, I had lunch at Gordon Ramsay at the Conrad Hotel.

As you know, Tokyo is chock-full of Michelin-starred restaurants, so there are lots of choices for good eating and fine dining. But last week in Manila, when a friend and I were trying to decide where to book for lunch yesterday, I suddenly felt like eating at Gordon Ramsay in Tokyo.


The last time I'd eaten here was when Gordon Ramsay first opened this restaurant seven years ago. I was one of the first people to sample his degustation menu in Japan, and it had been very good. Since then, my never-endingly eventful Travelife left me with little opportunity to return -- until yesterday, that is.

The Conrad Hotel, which is slightly off the beaten tourist track, was exactly as I remembered it. It's very modern in a luxurious way, and rather away from everything so you don't get hordes of tourists tramping through the lobby -- especially as the lobby is on the 28th floor. Perfect if you like privacy, quiet and luxury.

That said, it's not too far from the center of town. I decided to drive to the hotel today, and from the Tokyo American Club, where I'd spent the morning catching up on Tokyo life, it had taken me exactly 17 minutes in the car to get to the Conrad.


I wanted to revisit Gordon Ramsay specifically to try the cooking of Chef Shinya Maeda, a young guy from a kimono family in Kyoto who chucked a career in the family business to try his hand at cooking. He'd trained and worked all over Europe and the States -- including Petrus and the Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in London -- but interestingly, he'd never worked in Japan.

Chef Maeda had worked for Gordon Ramsay in London for a long time. But I think it's fair to say that the Michelin star that Gordon Ramsay in Tokyo has received for four years in a row now is entirely due to Chef Maeda's hard work.

Gordon Ramsay hardly visits Tokyo anymore, you see, so this one-star Michelin establishment is pretty much Chef Maeda's domain.

Our tasting menu yesterday


In the first year of the Michelin Guide in Tokyo five years ago, though, this restaurant failed to receive a much coveted Michelin star. Gordon Ramsay was reportedly livid at being left out, and that's when he decided to send Chef Maeda over from London to Tokyo. 

That's the hearsay in Tokyo foodie circles, at least.

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The pressure must've been pretty intense, to get that Michelin star. In the first year of his stint, Chef Maeda reportedly didn't take a single holiday in case the Michelin inspectors happened to come to his restaurant on his one day off for the year.


I asked the restaurant staff: "Do you know when the Michelin inspectors come to eat?" I know lots of the chefs and owners of the Michelin-starred restaurants in Japan, and some of them say they know, while others don't have a clue.

That's Nourry Lebbad, the new Maitre D'Hotel of Gordon Ramsay Tokyo.
He used to work with Michel Troisgros.

Everyone at Gordon Ramsay in Tokyo said they never noticed two Japanese and two foreigners having dinner. That's the urban legend in Tokyo about the Michelin team that eats in restaurants in Japan and how the Michelin visits  its prospects. So restaurateurs and chefs are always on the look-out for two Japanese and two foreigners eating together.

I find this isn't true anymore perhaps, as someone I know is a Michelin inspector and the last time I saw him in Japan, he was set to visit a new prospect for dinner with his wife. So I guess now people should be on the lookout for husbands and wives eating together -- and of course, the universe just widens considerably with this.

More later on exactly what we ate yesterday at Gordon Ramsay in Tokyo. And today, it's off to another famous restaurant in Tokyo and a morning at the spa before that.


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