Michelin names four new three-star restaurants in Tokyo today, taking the total for Japan to 26, the same number as France, the home of the dining guide.
The Tokyo guide also includes the neighboring cities of Yokohama and Kamakura for the first time. The area is home to 14 restaurants with three stars, 54 with two and 198 with one. Last month, Michelin gave three stars to 12 venues in western Japan.
“Japan is a great country for gastronomy,” Jean-Luc Naret, director of the Michelin guides, said in an interview in Yokohama today. “Still, you have to put things in perspective.” France has 200,000 restaurants, Naret said, compared with more than 500,000 in Japan, according to Gourmet Navigator Inc., one of Japan’s largest online directories of restaurants.
The winners are Araki, a sushi restaurant that goes straight to three stars; and Hamadaya, 7chome Kyoboshi and Usukifugu Yamadaya, all promoted from two. Hamadaya serves Japanese food, 7chome Kyoboshi specializes in tempura and Usukifugu Yamadaya is known for fugu, a fish that is poisonous in the wrong hands. L’Osier loses its three stars because the French establishment is about to close for redevelopment.
Naret said that while Japan has considerably more restaurants than France, it’s no surprise that so many stars are given. Tokyo has 14 three-star establishments compared with 10 in Paris. A total of 16 venues joined the ranks of those with two stars.
“There are a lot of good restaurants and a lot of bad ones,” Naret said. “You don’t always eat well in Tokyo, but there is a high proportion of very good restaurants.”
Lionel Beccat, who fell short of winning a third star today for his French eatery Cuisine(s) Michel Troisgros, said competition in Tokyo is tougher than back home in France. To get three stars, “the most important thing is regularity,” he said. “You have to be perfect 100 percent of the time.”
Michelin employs 7 inspectors in Japan, compared with 15 in France. That is explained by the difference in number of restaurants they actually visit: more than 8,000 addresses in the guide’s home country, compared with 1,800 to produce the first edition of the Tokyo and Kyoto/Osaka guides, Naret said.
Inspectors hear about new restaurants through word of mouth and also through research at food markets, he said. “If you’re looking at the best produce, you’re looking at the best chef,” Naret said.
In Yokohama, two restaurants -- Chiso Kimura and Masagosaryo -- are awarded two stars and another 14 gain a single star. In Kamakura, 10 venues obtain a star. All the inspectors come from the country, as with other Michelin guides.
Few ethnic restaurants were awarded stars outside of those offering French, Japanese, Italian and Chinese cuisines. “We go and try all the restaurants but we only select the best,” Naret said. “In order to obtain a star, you need to be among the 2,800 best restaurants in the world.”
In a nod to the times, the guide has marked for the first time restaurants offering a menu of less than 5,000 yen ($60) for lunch and or dinner with a pictogram of two coins.
Five criteria are used for awarding stars: product quality, preparation and flavors, the chef’s personality as revealed through the cuisine, value for money and consistency over time and across the menu, Michelin said. The criteria are adapted to each type of cuisine, including Japanese cooking styles.
In Japan, the most important elements of food are dashi, a broth made of kelp, dried bonito flakes and other ingredients; incorporating seasonal elements in dishes; and the quality of ingredients, said Keiko Mita, proprietress at Hamadaya, who regained its third star lost last year.
“We also need to present food attractively,” Mita said. “Japanese sensibility on beauty is definitely something special.”
Three stars mean exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey; two stars are for excellent cooking, worth a detour; one star denotes a very good restaurant in its category.
Michelin & Cie. is the world’s second-biggest tiremaker after Bridgestone Corp. It produced its first guide in August 1900, distributed free of charge (until 1920) and originally intended for chauffeurs. The guide contained practical information, including street maps and tips on using and repairing tires. The guides are expanding internationally under Naret and now cover 23 countries.
Michelin’s guide to France is scheduled for publication early in March. Before that, Hong Kong & Macau is slated for Dec. 2; the U.K. guide appears in January. The last volume to appear, in mid-March, is “Main Cities of Europe.” That guide covers Copenhagen, where interest centers on whether chef Rene Redzepi’s restaurant Noma will gain its third star.
Naret plans to step down at the end of this year.
The three-star restaurants in Tokyo: Araki (Japanese Sushi) Esaki (Japanese contemporary) Hamadaya (Japanese) Ishikawa (Japanese) Joel Robuchon (French contemporary) Kanda (Japanese) Koju (Japanese) Quintessence (French contemporary) 7chome Kyoboshi (Japanese Tempura) Sukiyabashi Jiro Honten (Japanese Sushi) Sushi Mizutani (Japanese Sushi) Sushi Saito (Japanese Sushi) Usukifugu Yamadaya (Japanese Fugu) Yukimura (Japanese) The new two-star restaurants in Tokyo: Chugoku Hanten Fureika (Chinese) Fukuju (Japanese) Harutaka (Japanese Sushi) Kikuchi (Japanese) Makimura (Japanese) Nadaman Honten Sazanka-so (Japanese) Pierre Gagnaire (French contemporary) Ren (Japanese) Sasada (Japanese) Sukiyabashi Jiro Roppongi (Japanese Sushi) Sushi Kazui (Japanese Sushi) Tateru Yoshino Shiba (French) Toyoda (Japanese) Waketokuyama (Japanese)
“The Michelin Guide Tokyo, Yokohama, Kamakura 2011” goes on sale in Japan on Nov. 27 and in France (for the English version) at the beginning of February 2011.
(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)