It’s indeed not easy to get a seat at Sawada. Think about this – 7 seats only, Michelin 2 stars, one of the hippest Sushi places in Tokyo. I was lucky enough to get in there and be seated right in front of the chef Sawada Koji (澤田幸治). Sawada is 38 years old, the same age as RyuGin’s chef Yamamoto. He used to work for one of the top Sushi places in Ginza – 青木 (Aoki). Some Japanese media even claim that Sawada is the most difficult sushi place to get a seat which really tempted me to go there.
I arrived at 13h50, 10 minutes earlier than my reservation scheduled at 14h. There were another 2 guests who had just arrived. There are only 2 people working at Sawada – the Chef himself and his helper. Sawada speaks a little English. He asked me if there is anything I don’t eat. I told him I even ate ball fish, then he laughed. Before starting the meal, his helper brought this sake – “醸し人九平次 別誂（べつあつらえ）純米大吟醸 Eau du desir” to me.
It’s my first time to taste this sake, and it’s an unusual one. Why?! It’s the first sake being introduced to a few Michelin 3 star restaurants in Paris, i.e. Pierre Gagnaire and Guy Savoy. This sake is really good and I would not hesitate to say it’s the best one I had so far in this year.
The first appetizer Sawada brought to me is I-Ku-Ra, the loose salmon eggs with a bit citrus sauce which offers a very light and elegant touch to the salmon eggs. The quality of salmon eggs is impeccable. They just easily melted in my mouth.
Afterwards, the Sawada style sushi feast started. I totally enjoyed looking at how he worked with his knife and shaped the sushi with skillful hands. He’s like an artist! Every sushi is just incredibly great and delicious. Sawada only uses the best fish he can get on the day (he has very limited sleeping time ‘cz he has to choose fish by himself every early morning). This sushi place totally blew me away. Even now, I could still remember how those fish tasted in my mouth… How that great O-toro brought the heavenly pleasure to me… The wild sea eel, the different unis (sea urchin) from Hokkaido and Kyushu, …everything is just incredible. Even the simplest atsuyaki tamago (egg cake) demonstrates what perfection would be.
Although our communication wasn’t much, by his genuine smile and extremely serious attitude to his sushi, I can tell that he really cares about his guests. Sawada, a man gives sushi with a spirit…! P.S. The 3 star sushi places are Mizutani (鮨 水谷) and Sukiyabashi Jiro (鮨 すきやばし次郎). At beginning, my first choice was Mizutani and 2nd choice was Sawada. I didn’t put Jiro as my first choice after doing reserach on several Japanese websites. The ratings of Mizutani or Sawada are the highest. Michelin Guide is worth it as a reference to, but when it comes to the end, I would rather trust a local insider’s taste.
5-9-19 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo, Japan
+81 3 3571 4711
Here are more pictures –
An inspiring and fantastic dining experience in Tokyo – RyuGin
RyuGin, a restaurant renowned for creative Japanese cuisine, is hidden in the very modern and chic Roppongi area. The chef Yamamoto Seiji (山本征治) used to work under the very famous chef Koyama Hirohisa (小山裕久) at Aoyagi (青柳) for 11 years. When he was 33 years old, he started his own restaurant RyuGin in December 2003. It’s rated as a 2-star restaurant by the first issue of Michelin Guide – Tokyo 2008. Yamamoto was invited to the 2007 Madrid Fusion and presented a dish called “Silkscreen of Squid Ink with Squid Carpaccio” which earned an ovation at the event. Indeed, Yamamoto is a super star in Japanese cuisine nowadays.
The dining space of RyuGin is pretty small. The main space could host about 20 guests only, but with a private room, it can host up to about 26 seats. I was lucky to get a seat because I called to make a reservation just 2 days ahead, but I was requested to arrive at the restaurant at 18h, otherwise, there’d be no tables available until 22h. I knew it’s very difficult to get a table there, so, I told the person that it was fine for me to be there at 18h.
On that day, I was the first guest to arrive at the restaurant. The sommelier (who was also the person to serve me) told me it would be okay to take a few pictures of the restaurant since no other guests were there yet. I was glad that the sommelier spoke English fluently. He told me that he went to Australia to take a sommelier course before, so there was no problem to communicate with him in English at all. Obviously, we have a shared interest – wine. Soon, we started a cheerful conversation. By his recommendation, I ordered the Gastronomy B set (which cost 26,250 yen, about US$250) which focuses on Yamamoto’s signature dishes.
After having the seasonal amuse bouche, I asked the sommelier what kind of whites they provided by the glass. He soon brought 4 whites to my table. Normally, I would choose the wine by myself, but in this case – I didn’t know how this “creative Japanese cuisine” would be, so I preferred to consult the sommelier. Satisfyingly, he gave me this answer – “How about this – I’ll pour some of each wine for you, so you can try the different combinations with different dishes.” How could I reject this offer?!
When the first dish came, I was still on my Champagne Henriot. Then the 2nd dish – Aichi figs with port flavored foie gras terrine served with sesame cream came, the waiter suggested another wine which didn’t appear in those 4 white flight when he just showed me. It’s a 2005 Zind-Humbrecht Clos Windsbuhl Gewurztraminer VT, what a brilliant suggestion. “Le mariage” of the wine and food was very harmonious. The bouquet of this Gewurz was dazzlingly aromatic. I just couldn’t stop myself taking a deep breath of this wine…
The sommelier was indeed helpful and friendly. He patiently explained every dish to me. When the “Assorted Sashimi – RyuGin Style” was served, the chef Yamamoto himself even came to pour the soy sauce for me as well as presented his greetings. Quelle surprise!
When I dined at some Michelin 2-star or 3-star restaurants in Paris, I sometimes found some dishes were not executed perfectly which usually made me feel a bit disappointed. But at RyuGin, I would say – every dish just and simply blew me away. I didn’t find anything over-cooked or not executed properly. Plus, the ingredients were top quality and the service was inviting with a “Japanese” sincere touch. Instead of “words”, maybe the pictures posted here would tell better by themselves. You would understand what RyuGin is likely to be.
Champagne Henriot “Souverain”
2005 Zind-Humbrecht Clos Windsbuhl Gewurztraminer VT
2003 Chateau Villa Bel-Air, Graves
2006 Koshu Cuvee Denis Dubourdieu (Made in Japan and by original Japnese grape variety)
2006 Domaine Weinbach Pinot Blanc
2003 Domaine Jayer-Gilles Bourgogne Hauts Cotes de Beaune
2006 Chateau Mercian Nagano Merlot (Japanese wine)
1999 Louis Jador “Ladoix”
1998 Chateau Batailley, Pauillac
Japanse Sake “天明 Tenmei” 純米吟釀 Junmai-Ginjo
Gastronomy B set
1) Amuse bouche – Ichiban Dash soup (Traditional clear broth) with puree of 5 varieties of wild mushrooms.
2) Deep fried seaweed, stuffed with sea urchin
4) Blue swimming crab and Shanghai crab topped with chrysanthemum gelee
5) “RyuGin’s house special – Contrasted of two abalone pieces cooked differently, steamed for 10 hours and the other in Shabushabu.” – The more transparent one on the right side is cooked by “shabushabu” way.
6) “Assorted sashimi – RyuGin Style” – There are 2 pieces for each kind of fish. For the first piece of each fish, the chef recommended me to eat with the sauce placed next to it. Then eat the 2nd piece with wasabi and dip a bit soy sauce.
7) Egg pudding, made with Hamo’s bone stock, flavored of autumn
8 ) Char grilled natural large eel with aroma of Japanese peppers
9) “Chef’s specialty – Grilled baby pigeon with autumn truffles” – the baby pigeon was only 28 days old! The meat is so tender… It’s grilled perfectly. The autumn truffle is very aromatic which tells the quality.
10) “Chef’s rice dish of the day” – The fish on the top is from Hokkaido, but I forgot the name of it…
11) Fresh compote of pear and small grapes with plum wine soda gelee
12) Caramel ice cream with Wasanbon sugar served with grated milk curd” – Wasanbon sugar is considered the best sugar in Japan. I really like the flavor of grated milk curd.
13) Baked chestnut cake served on full-moon presentation – very traditional Japanese dessert. Interesting presentation.
I posted this experience sharing on a gourmet forum called OAD (Opinionated About Dining), and I sent e-mail to RyuGin and told them I did that. A couple days ago, I received e-mail from Ryu-Gin, and I’m so grateful for that. Here’s the e-mail from Ryu-Gin –
Dear Ms. Ho,
Thank you for sending the URL for your photographs.
We have not heard of OAD website, and could you tell us the URL?
We assume it’s like Chowhound or EGullet and your word of mouth certainly help
s us as we are a tiny restaurant and don’t have the capacity for PR.
Recently, we started the online booking for overseas. Hopefully the guests wil
l feel more convenient to reserve a table whenever they want to from anywhere
in the world.
We hope to see you again on your next visit to Tokyo.