One of the Japanese pioneers of modern cooking, chef Seiji Yamamoto is inspired by such restaurants as El Bulli, Mugaritz, and Pierre Gagnaire to revise the more traditional Japanese dishes in his own inimitable style.
With only twenty seats, Ryugin feels homely, like many Japanese restaurants, which are far smaller than establishments in Europe, and even more so than in the States. The atmosphere is casual and relaxed. Besides a few ceramic plates, decorated with dragons, displayed on the walls, the room is sober, as nothing should distract from the food. Ryugin translates as ‘the dragon’. The creed that accompanies this particular dragon is ‘what comes round, goes around’ and Yamamoto interprets his success by this philosophy: his efforts have paid off. This applies not only to the cuisine, but also to the highly professional and friendly service.
The dishes here are different from other restaurants, such as a surprising course of somewhat salty and metallic sea urchin from Hakodate, creamy egg custard and grilled corn. Sweet elements at the start of a meal can confuse the taste buds, but not in this dish: the balance is neat. Beautiful sweet tones give this dish an extraordinary complexity; the composition is outright gorgeous. Apparently simple dishes turn out to be far more complicated than what you’d be inclined to believe. Take Yamamoto’s celebrated Ayu for instance. It is presented on a marble plate, with a watermelon sauce topping the small fresh water fish. This rare treat, available only from May to August, is grilled in a labour-intensive fashion, which involves three temperatures and grilling techniques. This skilful preparation allows the fish to ‘move’ in terms of taste and structure, as if the fish were swimming. Visually, this dish is magnificent, and its taste-light bitters and charcoal-adds a new frame of reference. A real tour de force, sublime.
Yamamoto’s port-infused foie gras with figs and his desserts sum up a memorable meal in this extraordinary restaurant. By combining incredible Japanese produce with a level of precision few restaurants in the West achieve, Yamamoto creates a unique culinary language that does not deny its roots, but uses new techniques where appropriate