Kaiseki represents the finest of Japanese fine dining and there’s no shortage of great places to try it in Tokyo. Defined by its seasonal, multi-course menu, the cuisine is also famous for its supreme reverence for a beautiful presentation. This level of attention to detail extends not just to the food but even to the plating and ceramics accompanying each dish.
While offerings and techniques vary with every chef, there are certain courses you can expect to find with any kaiseki meal. The appetizer course, hassun, provides artistically laid out offerings that set the theme for the rest of the meal. Suimono, a course of clear soup and agemono, a deep fried course, both follow suit. The rice course is served near the end of the meal and brings it to its final crescendo. If you’re looking for a high-end dining experience and are willing to pay a little extra for it, here are some of the best kaiseki restaurants you must try during your next visit to Tokyo.
Chef Hideki Ishikawa puts a creative take on this traditional cuisine with inventive new flavors that reflect the ingredients of the season. The set course menu is always changing but expect to see offerings like deep fried silver pomfret, grilled eel and taro, as well as wagyu beef with seasonal vegetables. The restaurant can boast three Michelin stars but the chef himself has raked up 8 total from all his venues. Guests can sit at private tables for a more formal experience or at the counter (kappo-kaiseki) to interact directly with the humble chef himself.
- Name: Ishikawa
- Address: 5−37 高村ビル 1F, Kagurazaka, Shinjuku, Tokyo
- Opening hours: Monday – Saturday, 5:30pm – 12:00pm
- Holiday: Sundays and National Holidays
- Website: http://www.kagurazaka-ishikawa.co.jp/info/index_e.html
2. Tokyo Shiba Tofuya Ukai
An oasis of calm in the heart of the bustling city, Tofuya Ukai nestles the guest into private dining chambers that surround a traditional Japanese garden with carp ponds and small bridges. Various artifacts and artwork help transport you into a different time. The kaiseki meal centers around tofu which is made locally at Ukai’s own workshop in the hills west of Tokyo. One of the meal’s highlights is a course of tofu served in soup and cooked right at your table. So the soup is steaming hot and as fresh as it gets when you eat it.
- Name: Tokyo Shiba Tofuya Ukai
- Address: 4 Chome-4-13 Shibakoen, Minato, Tokyo
- Opening hours: 11am – 10pm
- Holiday: One Monday every month
- Website: http://www.ukai.co.jp/english/shiba/
3. Akasaka Kikunoi
The Tokyo location of this Kyoto-based establishment remains true to its traditional roots. Renowned third generation owner, Yoshihiro Murata, is a master of kaiseki. While his two branches in Kyoto offer two dining experiences on completely different ends of the budget, one formal ryōtei while the other kappo counter style, the Tokyo outpost gives the guest a little bit of both styles. Expect to stay at least three hours as you’re served around 15 separate plates perfectly aligned with the current season but always featuring that distinct umami flavor Murata is famous for coaxing out of every dish.
- Name: Akasaka Kikunoi
- Address: 6-13-8 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo
- Opening hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 12 – 1pm, 5-8:30pm
- Holiday: Sunday – Monday
- Website: http://kikunoi.jp/english/store/akasaka/
Since its opening in 2005, this contemporary take on kaiseki-style dining has drawn much fanfare for its ever-changing and inventive dishes. Chef Yoshiaki Takazawa is perpetually pushing the limits of just how artistic food can get. His wife, Akiko, attends to the front of the house, serving the guests with a warm welcoming charm and explaining each dish in fluent English. With only 10 seats in the dining room, the meal is an intimate affair which exudes all the love a chef could put into their craft.
- Name: Takazawa
- Address: 3-5-2 Akasaka, Minato, Tokyo
- Opening hours: 6 – 9pm, daily
- Website: http://www.takazawa-y.co.jp/
Despite its reputation, Matsukawa is still shrouded in mystery. With just six seats at the bar, the only people allowed in are those recommended by regular guests. Chef Tadayoshi Matsukawa is himself a shy and reserved man, pouring all his energy into the food with masterful attention to both the aesthetics and flavors. Locals will tell you it’s the best kaiseki restaurant in Japan.
- Name: Matsukawa
- Address: 1-11-6 Akasaka, 1F Akasaka Terrace House, Minato-ku, Tokyo
- Opening hours: 12 – 3pm, 6 – 10pm, daily
- Holiday: Sunday
- Website: http://www.t-matsukawa.com/
Nestled in the mostly residential part of the Jingu Mae area on the basement floor of an office building, Esaki is a hidden gem with food as subtle and understated as its location. Chef Shintaro Esaki provides a traditional take on kaiseki cuisine with dishes that follow the seasons. On the menu, one might find such dishes as tender Ohara lobster with sweet bell peppers or chicken and mochi shinjo with Japanese crackers. The restaurant is recognized with three Michelin stars.
- Name: Esaki
- Address: Jingumae 3-39-9, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
- Opening hours: Monday – Saturday, 6 – 9:30pm
- Holiday: Sunday
- Website: http://www.aoyamaesaki.net/index.html
Considered one of Japan’s leading molecular gastronomists, chef Seiji Yamamoto puts a modern, cutting-edge spin on traditional kaiseki cuisine in his restaurant, Ryugin. While the food and dining experience are at their core a kaiseki meal, one will see imprints of French and Chinese influence in both the food as well as the plating and decor. The dishes themselves are subtle and the natural flavors of the ingredients are brought to the fore. Ryugin has maintained a three star Michelin rating every year since 2011.
- Name: Ryugin
- Address: Side Roppongi Building 1F, 7-17-24 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo
- Opening hours: Monday – Saturday, 6pm – 1am
- Holiday: Sunday
- Website: http://www.nihonryori-ryugin.com/en/
Clearly, Tokyo is spoiled for riches when it comes to great high-end dining options. If you’re in town and looking to splurge on a great meal, then definitely do not pass up the opportunity to experience kaiseki cuisine.
Have a good trip and travel!