Thursday, December 11, 2014

Best of a TRAVELIFE 2014: Dinner at Tokyo's best restaurant with a serious group of local foodies



So one night in Tokyo last October, living a Travelife, a friend took me to XXX, considered by many serious Japanese foodies as simply the best restaurant for a kaiseki meal in Tokyo right now.

It's not on any list or on any blog because the owner-chef is anal about publicity. Anyone who identifies it publicly, or who brings someone who identifies it publicly, is clearly not welcome again.

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MY NTH BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION

"Consider this a birthday treat," this friend had said, and so I chalked this up to another wonderful birthday celebration in about a month of continuous birthday celebrations in Manila, Hong Kong and Tokyo.

It was really a birthday treat, as well. I didn't see the bill, but I have a feeling we could have flown to Europe for the weekend on the price of that very exclusive meal.

THE ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE ENTRANCE

This restaurant is not on any of the international foodie lists either; and very few foreigners have actually been, because the owner-chef only entertains reservations via his mobile phone from people he knows personally, and he doesn't speak English.

So just imagine the innumerable barriers to entry here. In fact, it's so under-the-radar that I'd never even heard of it.

NO DETAILS TO ANYONE

Being a first-timer, I was specifically asked never to identify it even in private, so I haven't been able to answer even my friends who have asked me about this restaurant.

But when I finally was taken by my friend, one of the biggest big-time foodies in Japan, who really spends for food rather than makes a career of it, I finally  understood why.

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NO SIGNS, NO PUBLICITY

First, it doesn't have a sign.

It has a very small logo somewhere in its very unobtrusive entrance. So someone who doesn't have any idea of what he or she is looking for will miss it by a mile as it looks like someone's very understated home. And this is exactly what the owner/ chef wants.

Basically, his philosophy is: if you don't know about this place, you don't need to be here.

Just a handful of serious foodies keep him in business and he's perfectly happy with this. He hates publicity so I actually had to leave my phones in my coat pocket at the entrance.

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LIKE A VERY EXCLUSIVE CLUB
THAT ISN'T RECRUITING NEW MEMBERS

Second, it's like a little club.

Everyone knows everyone and everyone's in business with each other because Tokyo is a actually a very small world within a very big city.

Being the outsider and a semi-foreigner in Japan, I actually didn't know anyone when we walked in, although I knew of some of them by name and face from the front pages of the newspapers and magazines. It's a small place so you can scout out the territory in one glance.

ONLY REGULARS ALLOWED

Third, most are regulars who keep the chef in business so he doesn't need new customers. He seems to be charging these regulars a fortune, but they don't seem to mind.

In fact, when we walked in, the chef was at the counter and he didn't even look up from slicing some sashimi to greet us. That's how much regulars regard this place as their "kitchen."

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A CONVERSATION MIDWAY

Then, still without looking up, he said to my friend: "So, did you get it?"

My friend didn't miss a beat. He replied: "Nope. I just realised I don't even have time to use the others."

Of course I had no idea what they were discussing as it was probably part two, part three or part four of an ongoing conversation between them.

But later I found out that my friend had been thinking of ordering a custom-made Aston Martin in a particular shade of blue, to complement his garage of equally expensive toys, and this was what the conversation was about.



AT LAST, SOMEONE I KNOW

A little later, one of Japan's richest men walks in. 

Aha. Finally I knew someone personally. And it's interesting how I could instantly feel my stock rise in the eyes of the chef.

This latest guest, a very learned and courteous old gentleman, was once at the top of Japan's rich list for something like 10 years, until the IT guys started to muscle their way into the list.

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He's still in the top 10, I think, but if you've been # 1 for a long time, I don't think it's a nice feeling to suddenly go down a couple of notches.

But this guy, Japan's richest man for the longest time at one point, grows organic vegetables in his weekend home next to mine in Mount Fuji. When he and his wife have extra vegetables, they drop it off at my house if they know I'm home.



MY NEIGHBOR WHO JUST BOUGHT VIBER
TOOK HIS PLACE

And now one of the top IT guys on the list -- #3 or #4 perhaps -- is my neighbour in Tokyo, and I can see his living room from mine.

He bought Viber a couple of months ago as a hobby, I think, and he's eclipsed my old friend in terms of wealth.


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A MORE RELAXED SORT OF PLACE

Our weekend home area, which is about an hour from Tokyo, is a relaxed and understated one, but it has a very nice community that includes this gentleman. They have a pretty amazing house with a sauna that has a perfect view of Mount Fuji.

He said to me: "I haven't seen you for awhile."

Yes, I haven't been to this part of Mount Fuji in years because I've been so busy living a Travelife elsewhere. Although I've been going quite a lot to the other side of Mount Fuji, to a ryokan I like a lot called Gora Kadan, which is a Relais & Chateaux property considered one of the best in Japan.




A TRULY MIND-BLOWING MEAL

Anyway, the 12-course kaiseki dinner that was served was truly mind-blowing in taste and refinement.

But it was not in an overly dramatic way, the way many of the three-star Michelin kaiseki places make such a production of a meal, so that you can't decide whether you're at a restaurant or at an art exhibit.

Mind you, I like the art exhibit-type of meal, too. But this one at Tokyo's best restaurant was very simple but exquisite.


This was one of the many courses at lunch last October
at a Michelin two-star Japanese restaurant

ONE OF MY BEST JAPANESE MEALS

This was truly one of the best Japanese meals I've had, in my never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife, full of good food and meals at some of the best restaurants in the world.

And what a pity I can't write about this place lest I get blacklisted from this group and I never get to eat here again. So, unfortunately, no details and no photos, to detail just another delicious evening in my never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.








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