Eccentric Three Days in Tokyo - the reviews
The three days have come and past, and i'd like to offers my views on the places I visited. Timing was early August, weather was hot, but not unbearable. I made most reservations well in advance, and was able to get pretty much everywhere I wanted bar Quintessence.
So by order of visit:
Sushi Yoshitake. Dinner. Went there around 8:30pm. The place is tiny and rather non descript (although nice wood counter). 6 seat counter and a small private room. On this evening, we were three diners at the bar, and two in a private room. We were not served by Chef Yoshitake, but rather his helper - his knife work was flawless so no complaint. Chef Yoshitake was there, but spent most of his time in the private dining room. Ambiance was cool, with very little english spoken by the staff - my neighbors did speak English and were rather nice. Food: very good quality sushi, with some interesting sashimi starters. One highlight is the abalone, perfectly cooked, with a sauce made in its own liver. Exquisite knife work on the squid sushi. Overall very good, did not regret going there. However, in my book inferior to Mizutani or Sawada.
Kondo Tempura. Lunch at 1:30pm. Nice modern decor with a great view of the chefs cutting and frying. Elegant high end clientele, mostly Japanese. It was full on a Friday lunch time, with obviously several servings per seat. Lunch menu significantly cheaper than the dinner menus...for a reason : you don't get any of the high-end fish. I took the most expensive lunch menu (8000 yen) and had mostly vegetables and a few pieces of white fish (sorry can't remember the name). My neighbors ordered a special menu (i guess one of the evening choices, and had for example fried uni in a shiso leaf and several vegetables no one else had). Food: my take on high end tempura is that it's non-greasy fried food. I enjoyed it somewhat, but failed to discern the quality in the vegetables that many of the reviewers have found. It's fun to watch the chefs, and the "non greasiness" is amazing (I can particularly remember the fried bell peper with an almost translucent coating, full of steam when cut, but all the while crispy). I also ordered as an extra the tempura sweet potato. Interesting and tasty, but way to big for a single dinner. Its good to share (even between 4 people). Overall, a nice lunch spot. Would not go for dinner, and would not give it any stars in my personal book.
Tapas Molecular Bar. Dinner. The Mandarin in Tokyo has amazing views (try the men's loos), but the TMB is not facing outwards. The counter is in the middle of the less nice bar (in my opinion), and feels more gimmicky than high end. I had relatively low expectations, but in the end had a nice experience. There is one menu, served to everyone with a loud explanation of the dishes by the two chefs in Japanese and English simultaneously. Its rather strange but makes the whole show much less formal than the science behind the food would suggest. Clientele is mostly non Japanese and on my evening and the place was full. The wine pairing is very expensive - I took half a Krug from the menu which was much better priced. Food is more fun and interesting than imaginative. Its the techniques that make TMB, not the inventiveness of the food. The show-like service makes for an upbeat ambiance, with everyone talking to their neighbors. Overall, fun and enjoyable. A place to treat a teenager interested by food, or to take a date that doesn't care so much about the taste than about the show. Don't get me wrong, I don't regret it. But don't go expecting El Bulli.
Merveille. Lunch. Extraordinary. Went there after reading this board and I must say it is a clear winner. French cooking with Japanese ingredients. Decor is modern, and it was nearly full on a Saturday lunchtime. Mostly ladies-who-lunch, but I suspect its different at other times. Chef is visible behind an elevated glass enclosed kitchen, but only come to say goodbye on the street in the end (pretty much like all other high end Tokyo restaurants). The wine list is great, and reasonably priced in my book. Lunch menu was about 8000 yen, but food quality and ingredients were in another league from Konda… OK its French rather than modern Japanese, but don't be fooled. You cannot have this in Paris without going to a very good and very expensive place (think Guy Savoy). Everything tasted right, from the Wagyu beef to each and every side vegetable. As you can probably read, I really liked it and would want to go back for dinner. What's missing are better ingredients and probably a little more zest in the decor, but this chef is going places.
Takazawa. Dinner. For all of you on this board, this is a must try. In my book definitely three star quality. Decor is very modern with 4 tables (10 dinners max). Most dinners not Japanese! (the place is not as popular in Japan as it is with international foodies).The chef and his wife are all you see. She speaks near perfect English and is very cordial. We took the large menu (30000 yen) with the wine pairing (Japanese wines only at 8000 yen). Got an extra champagne glass, as the chef had us taste something outside the menu where he felt Japanese white would not do. Food: where to begin? Well first, the plate decoration. Plate is really the wrong noun as everything was presented in a non traditional way, such as a wood log for the "Forest" plate, and a sandy beach recreation for the "Sea" plate. The settings are nothing short of astounding. You are looking at an elaborate yet edible work of art. What about the taste: in my view it trumps the esthetic quality by a long shot. This is seriously good food - elaborate sauces, first quality ingredients put together in a very modern, light and elegant way. It is very expensive, but definitely worth every cent. I bought the picture book chef Takazawa just had published and looking at the pictures almost makes me jump back on a plane. This is better than present day Michel Bras, definitely better than Ryogin or Kanda. In my personal book, it is close to Illhaeusern or Taillevent in their heydays. Do go!
Sushi Araki. Lunch. This was Sunday in August. I was told to come at noon, and showed up at 12:05. The place was full, with everyone already munching and my first course waiting patiently in front of the chef. Do not be late! Clientele exclusively Japanese. People travel far just to eat here - my neighbors came from Nagano for the week end just for this lunch. Decor is very nice for a sushi place. It's small but feels airy. Chef Araki is great - creates a fun yet studious atmosphere. The quality of the sushi is flawless. There is a focus on tuna - if you like all kinds from non fatty to super fatty, this is the place to go. Several sashimis, some with an unusual sauce, followed by sushi, ending with a signature "T" roll of tuna maki. The whole thing takes a good two hours for lunch. This is really great sushi, at par with Mizutani (maybe a tad behind Sawada - but who knows as I haven't been to both on the same trip). The chef's personality however makes the experience way superior. Araki should be high on the list of any sushi lover visiting Tokyo with a well endowed bank account :( Now for a word of caution: chef Araki is trying to move to London where his two daughters study. He is planning to open a similar sized sushi joint (10 seats) by February/March 2013 - much to the dismay of all the Japanese dinners that day. He is not considering it - he made his decision and the only thing delaying his departure are the British working papers (he's learning English as proficiency is a requirement for the visa). So do go while he's still in Tokyo, or (if he can source the same products) wait for the new Masa to open in London…
Thanks everyone on the board for their contributions. I hope mine can provide value.