I am starting to think that Michelin is falling deeper into a black hole with Tokyo Michelin having more stars than any another city worldwide, as they continue to chase chefs but….
I have had the chance to visit Koju, a three star Michelin in Tokyo, I have eaten there several times since they opened, and last night was my last time there. While Koju staff is excellent, attentive and communicative, the kitchen is not three stars, or at least not last night.
The problem is, the head chef, co-owner is not there due to the opening of a new restaurant in Paris (in September) named Okuda. The new restaurant is similar in style and after the chef who is spending time there. Chef Okuda is talented and my other visits to Koju were excellent:http://mesubim.com/2013/01/24/kojyu-2
I am not sure how Michelin can accept to have a three star restaurant in Japan without the chef being present. The fact that he is working in another country is almost an insult. Can you imagine coming to Koju for “an Okuda experience” and he’s not there.
A restaurant so small with direct contact with clients at a counter should demand that the chefs presence. Actually Japanese chefs working in Japan have a sense of responsibility and duty to be present except on sick days and public holidays.
Last night at Koju the cuisine was mediocre at best, the guests were all foreigners, no Japanese, two seatings, as clients were coming and going. This alone is a good reason to remove a star. There was no dress code, or should I say lack of. I am sympathetic to restaurants that have paying guests who are boorish, but the guests last night were a cross between tattooed foreigners, perfume, and an Asian gentlemen wearing a Polo styled short-sleeved shirt, he caught everyones attention by belching out loud at the counter. (Horrifying)
Japanese are so strict about Tattoos, so how can a restaurant have guests that are full of tattoos while having them exposed. Part of the experience at a high end Japanese restaurant is the meditative aspect, limited distractions, and the enjoyment of aromas, etc.
The head chef was standing at the counter during service, drinking champagne with clients and talking the entire time, I felt like I was at a deli in New York.
A lack of refinement, the cuisine disappointed, I was shocked by the food arrangement. The first course is served on a platter for two, not very kaiseki, over decorated with green Japanese maple leafs, it looked like a messy food maze.
The fried Ayu was stuffed into a small dish head first, the most unusual way to serve Ayu. The kazunoko was acceptable, but other fish roe was runny, and the other small dishes were nothing very special at all.
The soup was a fish which we had never heard of, and frankly, we didn’t ask the name, as the two chefs struggled over a book, shuffling through an index to show us a photo and name of the fish. I am not sure why chefs have this burning to desire to interrupt clients unless they have a question, I suggest they say nothing, keeping it Zen.
The next dish was a mixture of potato and squash, a pretty lacquered bowl, but that’s it. I didn’t see any spring vegetables, and I wondered why serve winter vegetables.
The squid, tuna was white fish was dry. The preparation of the sashimi was not sightful, as the young chef cuts the fish, portions it for (4) customers and goes to the next fish. There was nothing elegant, or appetizing to watch the chef pile up fish just opposite clients. I thought this is something he could do in the kitchen.
The main course was beef with small daikon balls and grated wasabi piled on top, like a winter snowman you see on a lawn in America. My guest, a well noted foodie and a local is well versed in the Tokyo scene. He noted that the menu hardly ever changes, I too had more or less the same menu (6) months ago.
The desert was a sorbet and micro white gummy rice balls (similar to mochigashi) in a tall flute, served with cheap pink champagne poured into the glass, a desert disaster.
The best thing about Koju is his hinoki counter, it’s amazing.
Wine: recommended by the sommelier was Grace Chardonnay 2011 – reviewed under wines.