We ranked the best of one of Asia's top culinary destinations
Osaka's Hajime was included in our 101 Best Restaurants in Asia for 2013 list.
Ranking restaurants against one another is never an easy task. No matter if we’re searching for the best in a given city, country, or continent, the nuances across cuisine, value, and ambiance can be challenging. It’s not impossible, though.
With an experienced and well-traveled group of expert panelists, we’ve been able to put the ranking up to a vote and mathematically determine the best within a set of defined criteria. We recently did this while compiling a list of the 101 Best Restaurants in Asia, which ultimately included addresses across 25 cities and 11 countries.
Click here to see the 16 Best Restaurants in Japan Slideshow!
It didn’t hold the top spot or have the most restaurants on our list, but Japan was (unsurprisingly) a very strong contender, with 16 restaurants making the final cut. The majority of these spots are based in Tokyo, but we also included deserving restaurants in comparatively smaller cities like Kyoto, Osaka, and Asahikawa.
Just because they’re the best, don’t assume that all of the restaurants in our list are out of reach of your wallet. The list includes Michelin three-star restaurants, including the renowned Sukiyabashi Jiro in Tokyo (recently made famous in the States thanks to the film Jiro Dreams of Sushi), as well as more casual ramen joints like Santouka Ramen in Asahikawa. While some of these restaurants are owned and operated by master Japanese chefs, some of the best are also the projects of foreign chefs, including France’s Michel Bras and his TOYA Japon restaurant in Toyako.
No matter your budget or recent travel plans, check out our slideshow to see and learn more about the restaurants that our survey determined to be Japan’s best.
The Ultimate Guide to Ramen: Around Japan in 16 Types
Ramen is one of Japan’s best-loved dishes, and for good reason. It’s hearty and filling, it’s a harmony of flavors and ingredients in a single bowl, and best of all, it’s cheap. In fact, one ramen restaurant, Nakiryu in Tokyo, is currently the cheapest Michelin-star restaurant in Japan!
What makes ramen so appealing for chefs and foodies alike is that there’s so much room for innovation. “If you’ve eaten one, you’ve eaten them all,” doesn’t apply here there are so many liberties that can be taken with ramen. Just master the basics, then experiment… which is precisely what many ramen masters have done.
Let us take you on a culinary journey around Japan by introducing you to the four main types of ramen, as well as 12 unique regional variants!
Trullo, Higbury – for seasonally focussed Italian-inspired dishes
Older sister to Borough Market’s Padella, Trullo serves perfect pasta, antipasti and larger charcoal grill dishes in a romantic yet relaxed environment. Upstairs, wooden tables – simply laid with white paper tablecloths and flickering tea lights – are huddled together, while downstairs, dark booths are perfect for a longer, laid-back dinner.
The menu changes twice daily, depending on seasonal produce, but if there’s two of you we’d recommend a couple of antipasti, a couple of plates of pasta and one larger oven dish. Baskets of bread are served alongside a pot of olive oil, and you can keep asking for more but it’s better to save yourself for the pasta. Rich beef shin ragu coats slippery ribbons of pappardelle, while sweet squash ravioli gets a richness from the olive oil. If it’s on the menu, order Padella’s iconic pici cacio e pepe for a cheesy hit. Meat and fish are simply cooked over coals, served with the likes of soft polenta and salsa verde or baby beetroot.
As with the food, wines change regularly but there are always a few available by the glass. The natural Puglia Miro is bursting with ripe cherries, or sip on a punchy coffee negroni as a nightcap.
Theo’s, Camberwell – for Neapolitan pizza
Head to Theo’s in Camberwell for the best sourdough pizza in London. Its wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas are the best in South London. The Scotch Bonnet nduja is the menu must-order, as the spiced sausage is made across the road by the team at the Camberwell Arms pub.
Save room for a serving of Theo’s outrageously good tiramisu , and order a negroni bianco or espresso martini to finish. If you don’t fancy sitting in, Theo’s do delivery, so it’s up there with the best takeaway pizza in London, too.
Lina Stores, Soho – for authentic pasta and aperitivi
Lina Stores is a much-anticipated pasta, antipasti and aperitivi bar from Soho institution Lina Stores, an Italian deli that’s been the go-to for authentic produce since opening in 1944.
The white and mint striped awning makes the new restaurant easily identifiable to regulars at Lina Stores’ original green-tiled corner shop a few streets away. Pops of its signature pastels continue inside – leather bar stools at the ground-floor counter, shelves heaving with Italian liqueurs to make punchy negronis and spritzes, and striped aprons on the chefs who slice pink ribbons of prosciutto, plate up antipasti and toss handmade pasta in pans of sauce in the tiny open kitchen.
Head chef Masha Rener has kept the menu simple and seemingly authentic, with every ingredient hailing directly from Italy – from bright and buttery Cerignola olives right down to the sugar used in exemplary Italian desserts and cakes.
The antipasti menu includes silky aubergine fritters in a crunchy golden shell, crisp radicchio salad with anchovy dressing, and little bowls of almost-too-pretty-to-eat baby artichoke hearts. Start with a porchetta sandwich, served Roman-style, in a crisp ciabatta roll, stuffed with crunchy bites of golden crackling and soft, slow-cooked pork marinated in rosemary and fennel seeds. We’d return for this alone, but it’s quite filling for a starter so share, if you must.
Fresh pasta, handmade an hour before service, is given pride of place at Lina Stores, served as the main event rather than traditional pre-main primi. Bright yellow strands of pappardelle soak up light, gamey rabbit ragu, perfectly formed gnocchi is brightened up with popping peas, and a vibrant mint and courgette mixture is stuffed into little tortellini parcels. Pici alla norcina is the highlight, though – springy worms of pasta in a creamy, nutty sauce of porcini mushroom and Norcia sausage (often celebrated as the best in Italy).
Creamy lemon sorbet refreshesafter so many comforting carbs, the little half-lemon bowl a nostalgic nod to Italian holidays, and is served with a shot of limoncello to send you merrily on your way.
Luca, Clerkenwell – for high-end Italian
“Someone said to me, you mean ‘Britalian, like the River Café’ – I liked that,” smiles chef Isaac McHale when asked to describe the high-end food at Luca, which features such dishes as montgomery cheddar fonduta and spaghettini with Morecambe Bay shrimp and mace butter.
“We are just happy doing our thing, making it tasty and cooking with an Italian mindfulness of simplicity,” says Isaac. Don’t leave without ordering the light-as-air churro-like parmesan fries.
“We are just happy doing our thing, making it tasty and cooking with an Italian mindfulness of simplicity,” says Isaac. Don’t leave without ordering the light-as-air churro-like parmesan fries.
Maremma, Brixton – for Tuscan neighbourhood vibes
The small space of this Tuscan bistro has a distinctly neighbourhood vibe – vases of dried flowers sit on tables crammed in alongside stools at the pale sage counter overlooking the busy open kitchen and aperitif-bottle-lined bar.
Large, almost life-size illustrations of wild boar and octopus on exposed brick walls reflect dishes on the menu – the former in a hefty cut of pepper-crusted cutlet and belly with balsamic figs and wispy Italian spinach, and also combined with Tuscan herbs and fennel seeds to make a ragu tossed through glistening folds of homemade pappardelle.
The menu is dedicated to produce from the Maremma region of south-west Tuscany. Highlights of our visit were a starter of super-soft octopus neatly arranged in a bowl with crushed new potatoes, all doused in Tuscan olive oil and lemon juice. Another was the tortelli Maremmani – yolk-yellow pasta parcels stuffed with creamy ricotta, spinach and a hint of nutmeg, topped with crispy sage. Skate wing wasn’t on the menu on our visit, but we’ve heard from reliable sources it’s another standout.
Wines all come from Maremma – the brancaleta sangiovese/malvasia nera blend provides an elegant, aromatic accompaniment to the boar dishes, while chardonnay from the same vineyard is intense enough to hold up to most options on the menu. The cocktail menu also showcases spirits from the region – Seven Hills gin, infused with juniper and herbs from Maremma, is used in the negroni and a rosemary old fashioned, while the Mi-To (Milano-Torino) cocktail mixes a new Maremma-born vermouth with Corsican grapefruit aperitif, Pampelle.
Padella, Borough Market – for perfect pasta
Tim Siadatan and Jordan Frieda, the duo behind Trullo in Highbury, opened their second restaurant, Padella, in Borough Market in March 2016. Padella’s menu is made up of eight pasta dishes taken from Trullo’s ‘greatest hits’, using fresh pasta rolled in the window of the restaurant just before service.
A small, no-bookings restaurant where queues are a given, Padella was born of a desire to make fresh handmade pasta accessible to everybody, with prices ranging from £5.50 to £11.50. The open kitchen combines traditional Italian techniques and quality British produce to make dishes like pappardelle and eight-hour beef shin ragu, tagliarini with brown shrimps, green and yellow courgette, and its now famous pici cacio e pepe (get the recipe here).
Jordan says: “We wanted to create a restaurant that was true to the principles we admired in the great British restaurants – rigorous seasonality with a focus on using British producers wherever possible. We make everything in-house – rolling pasta, baking our bread, churning our ice cream – every day, and do it at a price that isn’t exclusive.”
Bancone, London WC2 (Covent Garden) – for Italian counter dining
The tagline for Covent Garden’s newest Italian restaurant, just minutes from Trafalgar Square, might be “pasta, prosecco, espresso” – but it’s those first little mouthfuls of arancini from the antipasti that you’ll be raving about, come home time. Created by head chef Louis Korovilas – whose CV lists training under Giorgio Locatelli, at Locanda Locatelli, and Pied à Terre – the arancini arrive as three golden nuggets. Their crisp armour gives way to the lightest rice, still just al dente, no stodge, and bags of flavour – first (on our visit) earthy mushroom, next creamy dolcelatte, and finally saffron with a fiery heart of ’nduja.
It’s hard not to be mesmerised by the rest of the menu, though, particularly if you sit at the marble-topped, brass-trimmed bar, overlooking Louis and his team at work. Fresh pasta, which is made and rolled upstairs, is flash-boiled before being tossed with any of the 10 sauces on offer. Chitarra – guitar-string like spaghetti – is slicked with cacio e pepe and topped with a crisp, peppered cheese wafer.
Oxtail ragu (best ever ragu recipes here), slow cooked for 10 hours until sticky and sweet, clings to bouncy folds of pappardelle. Simple, quality ingredients – the bedrock of good Italian cookery – are shown proper respect. Hispi cabbage is charred and dressed with red chilli, garlic and 2017 Planeta olive oil. Chicory and beans are held up with sweet and sour onions, and a deeply savoury anchovy crumb.
Classic negronis with the right amount of chunky ice and a twist of orange are just as well received as the prosecco, and don’t leave without a palate-cleansing, retro-tastic Amalfi lemon syllabub (recipe below) and granita served in its original host. Holiday vibes for the win.
Bocca di Lupo, Soho – for regional Italian cooking
Opened in 2008. Bocca di Lupo was the first solo venture from chef Jacob Kenedy and general manager Victor Hugo. Jacob was previously head chef at Moro before moving to Boulevardin San Francisco. Bocca di Lupo showcases regional Italian cooking and wine – Jacob and Victor travelled extensively around Italy to research the restaurant’s menu and wine lists.
A long, marble-topped bar dominates the right-hand side, while the main room stretches behind. The kitchen is open and gleaming, and the tables and chairs are elegantly non-descript.
The premise is straightforward – to offer regional Italian food in tapas-sized portions. More substantial plates are available for the deeper of belly. The menu is a gustatory odyssey through Italy, from a Trentino pork and foie-gras sausage to a Sicilian tuna tartare, which manifests as a generous hillock of ruby cubes, studded with salty capers, soft pine nuts and shavings of orange peel.
Kenedy is a master at frying – producing a sublimely light crescentini (a sort of fried bread), topped with sweet speck, fennel-studded finocchiona and soft squacquerone cheese – and is equally deft when it comes to salads. A sublime blood orange, oregano and onion salad explodes in the mouth.
Fiume, Battersea – for smart southern Italian dishes
Wind around the edge of the Thames, ducking under the colourful ‘Power’ archway as you do, and in the shadow of Battersea Power Station is where you’ll find Fiume. Translating as river, the contemporary Italian sits in front of a water feature that reflects the golden hue of the recently renovated chimneys towering above.
This is Calabrian chef Francesco Mazzei’s third restaurant in partnership with D&D London. Inside, the restaurant’s décor reflects the menu – it’s smart but relaxed. There’s counter dining and high chairs by the bar for quick plates of cicchetti ( fried calamari to crostini draped with mozzarella, anchovies and roasted peppers) and homemade breads from the wood-fired pizza oven.
The menu proper focusses on the recipes of southern Italy , or Mezzogiorno, jumping around the eight different regions. Think wobbly burrata and slow-cooked octopus to start, with classic mains such as aubergine parmigiana and seafood fregola, along with a handmade pasta menu.
Angelina, Dalston – for Italian-Japanese fusion
Simple yet refined Italian-Japanese cooking is the focus at Angelina, and their dining concept is boldly simple: just a five-course sharing menu for £38.
The menu starts with elegant fish and seafood crudités: Sicilian red prawns, dusted with roasted rice powder and drizzled with olive oil, has a lusciously soft, almost creamy texture, while rich tuna belly is pepped up by a zingy blood orange dressing. Sea bream with mirin is salty-fresh.
Elsewhere, a risotto with unagi (eel), burnt soy butter and dashi is perfectly executed, the rice creamy but retaining just the right amount of bite, the fish butter-soft, while onglet steak with charred radicchio is all bitter, umami intensity.
Radici, Islington – for a refreshed old-school Italian
Hot new Islington restaurant Radici is the latest venture from Italian chef Francesco Mazzei, who also oversees Sartoria in Mayfair. More of a neighbourhood trattoria than its Savile Row sibling, Radici’s menu incorporates dishes such as seafood fettuccine and calf’s liver involtino with pancetta, garlic and rosemary served with smoked potato mash. “I would call Radici a ‘refreshed old-school Italian’,” says Francesco. “We’re true to who we are.”
Pastaio, Soho – for casual pasta dinners
Chef Stevie Parle’s latest venture brings handmade pasta and affordable wines to Soho. A cavernous Tom Dixon-designed space on Ganton Street that’s all high ceilings and exposed fittings, with a huge, colourful mural (by Rob Lowe of Supermundane) that saves the room from feeling coldly industrial.
From the pasta section, malloreddus (tiny, ridged Sardinian gnocchi) came dressed with a slow-cooked sausage sauce that was elegantly light and flavourful, while agnoli stuffed with grouse, pork and rabbit was a deceptively simple dish that made good use of prime autumn produce. Be sure to order the agnoli – a triumph of pared-back cooking perfectly cooked and crafted pasta, a generous game filling and a seriously moreish sage-butter sauce.
The drinks offering at Pastaio is short and affordable, ranging from prosecco and Aperol slushies to wines from lesser-known Italian growers, many priced by the glass. We tried a velvety, smoky refosco – a spot-on recommendation from our friendly, knowledgeable waiter.
Osteria Romana, Knightsbridge – for Roman cooking
A small, softly lit space, the décor keeps it simple with plain wooden flooring and furniture, earth-hued walls and little copper lamps that shine inviting pools of light over each table. Pots of vivid green basil adorn each table and a wall-to-wall wine rack provides a focal point at one end of the room. The effect is intimate, unpretentious but still tastefully sleek – it is Knightsbridge, after all.
Four fat, handmade gnocchi were the stars of our antipasti. Pleasingly fluffy, they came drizzled with a decadent, moreish black truffle and pecorino sauce. Well-made rice croquettes, with a crisp exterior and meaty ragu filling, were complemented by a tangy tomato velouté. Spaghetti carbonara , that iconic Roman dish, was note perfect, with a silky properly emulsified sauce. Tonnarelli with artichokes and red prawns combined juicy crustacean with dried shards of artichokes and a bisque-like sauce. Lamb chops – served with ultra-smooth mashed potatoes and crispy leeks – were pink, tender and deeply flavoured.
The concise wine list keeps it almost entirely Italian, of course. We tried a subtly smoky sangiovese and montepulciano blend, and a fruity ripasso.
Wolf, Stoke Newington – for contemporary Italian
Opening a contemporary Italian restaurant was a natural step for Wolf owner Antony Difrancesco, who was born in London to Sicilian parents.
Seasonal dishes include fazzoletti with sheep ricotta, broad beans, peas, lemon and mint, and breaded veal chop with brown butter capers, anchovy and lemon. Antony says: “The great thing about the renaissance of Italian food is that chefs are applying new techniques and other influences to make them their own.”
Emilia’s, St Katherines Dock – for coastal Italian vibes
“Many people have said the view from our restaurant resembles the coast of southern Italy,” says Andrew Macleod, owner of Emilia’s in St Katharine Docks. After developing the concept, Andrew joined forces with pasta chef Simone Stagnitto to create the menus for this rustic pasta bar.
The pasta is made daily on site and the concise menu features just seven pasta dishes. Recipes include a northern Italian-style carbonara and four-hour slow-cooked béchamel bolognese.
Cecconi’s Pizza Bar, Soho – for a fun pizza date
From the team behind Soho House, Cecconi’s Pizza Bar focuses on pizza, pasta and Aperol spritz on tap. Vintage Italian posters, black and white mosaic tiles and mahogany tables give the space a retro feel. In the summer, grab a seat on the street and spend the evening sipping on punchy negronis.
Which pizza to order at Cecconi’s Pizza Bar? The super doughy charred crust has a slightly smoky flavour, while the sloppy base is piled high with toppings. Either keep it classic with buffalo mozzarella, tomato and basil, or choose one topped lavishly with parma ham, peppery rocket, mozzarella, parmesan and meltingly creamy burrata – torn apart then drizzled with olive oil. If you fancy something a little lighter, go for a pizzette instead.
What else is there to eat and drink? Crisp matchsticks of zucchini fritti with silky aioli (lifted with lemon) is the best place to start. While pizza is the focus, be sure to share a bowl of creamy spaghetti dusted with shavings of umami truffle. If you’ve saved room for dessert, the tiramisu is a must. Waiters bring large dishes to the table and serve the rich coffee-soaked dessert straight up.
Sorella, Clapham – for neighbourhood vibes
Having lived, worked and even celebrated their wedding on the Amalfi Coast, it had always been a dream of Robin and Sarah Gill (of The Dairy in Clapham) to open an Italian restaurant. After a trip to Italy, co-owner Dean Parker – who worked in one of Robin and Sarah’s favourite restaurants while out there – fell in love with the idea, too. And so, The Dairy’s sibling restaurant, Sorella (meaning ‘sister’), was born in early 2018.
The menu takes a traditional format but is also hugely influenced by the produce from the group’s own farm. As with The Dairy, there is still a focus on methods such as fermentation, and Dean oversees the bread – including semolina sourdough.
The menu starts with cicchetti and antipasti such as fried olives, fennel salumi and truffle arancini. Primi includes cuttlefish linguine with black olives and peppers, gnocchi with wild mushrooms and asparagus, and a seasonal ragu.
Secondi are served using whole cuts from rare breeds or fish from Cornwall. For dolci, there’s Pump Street chocolate with fennel gelato, a seasonal panna cotta and a malted barley affogato with vodka milk.
Drinks are a big focus, with the group’s Dan Joines creating a homemade vermouth. “The vermouth is an essential ingredient in the cocktails we serve,” says Dan. “Making our own has been a passion project for the past three years and now it’s complete. In summer it’s light and fresh, but we also make a deeper, sweeter one (great in a negroni) for winter.”
Don Luigi, Brixton – for Italian street food
A shipping container on Brixton Station Road is now home to some of the most authentic regional Italian food in London. Owners Maria Mugnano and Alessio De Laureto focus on food from the tiny south-central Italian region of Molise.
Fried calamari is the signature dish – fresh (never frozen) squid served piping hot with a drizzle of lemon juice, or in a sandwich with caramelised red onions, grilled courgettes and aïoli.
The arrosticini are another highlight – chargrilled skewers of lamb flown in fresh every week from the mountainous Abruzzo region – while Molise’s renowned white truffles appear in a delicious porchetta sandwich and a vegetarian-friendly version with scamorza and spicy, grilled aubergine.
“We’re passionate about our culinary history and excited to share these dishes with a new audience,” says Alessio. “The idea was to bring the simplicity that we use in Termoli, the city where we come from, to London. We wanted to do things differently, but still use traditional methods.”
Looking for inspirational Italian recipes? Check out our 27 best ever Italian recipes here
Indian Chinese cuisine is known to have started its journey in Kolkata where a small Chinese community has lived for over a century and has made its way into everyone's heart. It is an adaptation of the Chinese sauces, seasoning and certain cooking techniques like steaming and stir-frying. A lot of street food vendors and restaurants serve what is known as the Hakka cuisine with prominent dishes like Manchurian, American Chop Suey, Sweet and Sour, Chow Mein and others. These have similar textures but different flavours due to the use of certain Indian ingredients.
1. Dim Sums
One of the most loves street food from the north east, widely popular across northern India now comes to your kitchen! Small bite-sized rounds stuffed with veggies or meat. Dimsums are perfect steamed snack to delight those evening cravings.
2. Hot and Sour Soup
Isn't it great to warm up with a piping hot bowl of soup during the winters? Here is a soup with a spicy and sour broth. It is made with the goodness of mushrooms, cabbage, carrot and a spicy twist of red peppers or white pepper and sour with vinegar.Chinese Recipes: A piping hot bowl of hot and sour soup on a wintery evening is all you need. Image credits: iStock
3. Quick Noodles
4. Szechwan Chilli Chicken
A fiery delight straight from the Sichuan region. It is loaded with pungent spices like brown pepper. red chillies, ginger, green chillies and white pepper.Chinese Recipes: Fried chicken cooked with brown, green & white peppercorns and oriental spices. Image credits: iStock
5. Spring Rolls
A crisp appetizer where shredded veggies are encased in thin sheets and then fried golden. Little munchies to prepare at home for a high tea menu or just a party starter, serve with a tangy dip.
Chinese Recipes: Infused with a range of flavors, crisp vegetarian spring rolls with cheese, bell peppers and sun dried tomatoes. Image credits: iStock
6. Stir Fried Tofu with Rice
A simple stir-fry with tofu and oriental sauces. Sti fried togu with rice is a great main course dish to prepare at home laced with flavourful spices and sauces. Serve with some fried rice to make a wholesome meal.
7. Shitake Fried Rice with Water Chestnuts
A healthy frice recipe packed with the goodness of mushrooms and water chestnuts that are often used in Chinese meals. Here is a delicious fried rice recipe dish that is fast, filling and flavourful. You can serve with a gravy dish of hot garlic sauce.
Chinese Recipes: A light and yummy Chinese recipe for your next meal! Image credits: iStock
8. Chicken with Chestnuts
Stir-fried mushrooms with minced chicken, water chestnut and radish along with a host of veggies and sauces like date puree, fish sauce and the Chinese classic soya sauce. This earthy recipe is perfect for a holiday feast.
9. Honey Chilli Potato
The quintessential Indo-Chinese snack! Honey chilli potato is what you'll find at every Chinese van in and around north India. It has the perfect balance of sweet and spicy with sliced potatoes tossed with a host of sauces and spices.Chinese Recipes: An amazing starter recipe, honey chilli potato can be added to any party menu. Photo Credit: NDTV Beeps
10. Wok Tossed Veggies in Honey and Black Bean Glaze
A colourful melange of veggies like chestnuts, mushrooms, Chinese cabbage - all tossed in honey and black bean sauce.
11. Peri Peri Chicken Satay
With an addition of fiery peri peri sauce, chicken satay is a mouth-watering starter recipe to prepare at home. Boneless chicken chunks marinated in a pool of spices and grilled to perfection.
12.Cantonese Chicken Soup
Packed with bokchoy, mushrooms, spring onion and chicken, this heart-warming soup recipe is perfect for a chilly winter evening.
13.Veg Hakka Noodles
A kid's favourite, veg hakka noodles is a great way to shove all the veggies down to your kid's plate. Just toss up all your favourite veggies like capsicum, carrot, spring onions and cabbage in a tangy mix of sauces and you'll have a clear winner at the table!
14. Vegetable Fried Rice
An excellent way to use leftover rice, veg fried rice is a delicious recipe with the goodness of veggies like carrot, cabbage, beans along with baby corn, soy sauce, chillies and garlic. Perfect lunch or dinner option.
15.Garlic Soya Chicken
Chicken chunks tossed with a host of sauces, garlic soya chicken is a delicious melange of herbs and spices that can give a complete spin to your regular meal.
16. Vegetable Manchow Soup
A mix of hot and spicy flavours, vegetable manchow soup is packed with ginger, garlic,chillies, beans and the goodness of carrots, mushrooms and capsicums. Prepare this as a comfort dish on a chilly winter evening.
Dinner party dessert: how to plan a dessert course at a dinner party
So you’re planning a dinner party. And since you’re an excellent host, you are of course planning a dessert course for your guests. Sure, you could just make a nice pie or cake, but this is a special occasion and calls for something special.
One way to do this is by choosing a dessert that will just knock their socks off with its beauty and deliciousness. But this doesn’t always come easy: desserts, by their very nature, are finicky. They’re often a bit like chemistry experiments, requiring esoteric equipment and powdery additives in order to achieve just the right taste and texture.
This recipe hailing from southern China is no exception. It requires quite a few exotic ingredients, so your best bet is to head to your local Asian or Chinese import shop. Once you’re there, you need to pick up some special ingredients like alkaline water, golden syrup, lotus seed paste, and rose-flavored cooking wine. But the most important part of this recipe is the cake pan.
There was a time when Americans were great collectors of novelty cake pans. Though in the States these seem to have gone out of style, this mooncake possesses a timeless appeal that defies such short-lived trends. A mooncake mold is an intricately designed cake mold, about 5 inches in diameter. It typically features an engraving of a Chinese character, often one signifying longevity, harmony, or other ideas. Also common are pictures of the moon, mythical figures, flowers, vines, and other symbolic objects.
Once you pop your Chinese mooncake out of its engraved mold, you ensure that you’re going to make a lasting impression—definitely on your cakes, but hopefully on your guests as well.
Okay, so this one's a joke. But we DO love the hilarious comments thread.
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Japan's Yanagiya – is this the best restaurant on the planet?
This invitation-only restaurant near Nagoya holds the No 1 spot on Tabelog, Japan’s most popular dining website. And no wonder: the skewers of fat-cloaked duck, boar and venison are grilled to perfection
Glowing red charcoal sticks and the smell of sizzling animal fats … Photograph: Michael Booth/The Guardian
Glowing red charcoal sticks and the smell of sizzling animal fats … Photograph: Michael Booth/The Guardian
Last modified on Tue 9 Jul 2019 10.32 BST
A nointing the “best restaurant in the world” has become a mini-industry. Last week, the Black Swan – a country pub in North Yorkshire – was given the accolade based on TripAdvisor ratings. But humour me for a moment because I think I have the answer. If we accept that Japan is the greatest food nation on Earth, with the most discerning eaters and the most advanced restaurant culture (Michelin, for what it’s worth, agrees, as do all of the chefs I’ve ever met), then it seems at least arguable that the very best restaurant in the world might also be in Japan.
What does the world’s 50 best list say? For many years, according to its voters, the best Japanese restaurant in the world was not even in Japan, so let’s not waste any more time with them. Perhaps, in this day and age, it is to the hive mind of a user-generated restaurant review sites that we should turn. Japan’s most popular restaurant website is tabelog.com. It is used by 60 million visitors every month, and more than 20 million diners have placed a review grading restaurants from one to five. Interestingly, considering the petulance, lies and score-settling that plague user-generated review sites in the UK, Tabelog’s contributors tend to be well-informed, with a clear focus on the quality of the food.
Tabelog’s rankings fluctuate constantly, of course, but observing its national top 10 over the past few years, one restaurant, Yanagiya, has held the No 1 spot more often than any other, and for a while it had the highest score ever – 4.76. This is not some swanky Ginza-based French temple with a wine cellar worth more than the GDP of a developing nation, but a fairly basic joint specialising in game cooked over an open flame, high up in the hills of Gifu prefecture, north-east of Nagoya.
I first heard about it a few years ago when I interviewed Yuko Yamaguchi, the current Hello Kitty illustrator. I knew she was a noted bon vivant, and asked of her favourite restaurant. Her face softened at the memory, and she whispered: “Yanagiya.” Since then, the name has cropped up several times in conversation with other Japanese food obsessives as one of those quasi-mystical, Brigadoon-type places.
Yanagiya … a sprawling, half-timbered building. Photograph: Courtesy of Yanagiya
Last year, when I found out that my family and I would be passing close by on our way from Kyoto to Nagano, I got very excited and tried to book a table, but Yanagiya turned out to be an “ichigen-san okotowari” restaurant, which means “no first-time customers”. I could only reserve if I had dined there before or had a personal recommendation from someone who had. I began to put out feelers via food-loving Japanese friends. When that didn’t work, I moved on to harassing remote acquaintances and friends of friends. Eventually, I struck lucky through a chain of five people across three cities, the last of which, my actual connection to Yanagiya, I had never met, nor even heard of.
This is how the four of us found ourselves disembarking at a rural bus stop some distance from Nagoya. For the last hour or so, I had diligently ticked off the bus stops on a list written in Japanese, as instructed by my hotel concierge. All I knew was that we had to get off at the 28th stop, hopefully the town of Mizunami.
Peering at it in the dark, “town” appeared to be overstating what was not much more than a few houses strung out along a forested mountain road. And where was Yanagiya? The only sign of life was a light from a convenience store, but the young woman working there was not aware of any restaurants nearby. Frankly hurtful aspersions were cast by my family on my ability to count beyond double digits until an elderly woman came to the rescue. She drew us a map.
A steep climb later and we were welcomed by a young woman with a baby in a sling on her back at the entrance of a sprawling, half-timbered building whose lights glowed softly from behind paper-screened windows.
Inside, the restaurant was divided into private rooms, each with its own central hearth, “irori”-style – a pyramid of glowing red charcoal sticks framed by a square counter around which the diners sat on cushions on a tatami floor. There was laughter, the chinking of glasses and the smell of sizzling animal fats.
‘What we do is so personal, each room with its own chef.’ Photograph: Courtesy of Yanagiya
In our room, we met Masashi Yamada, the restaurant’s manager, brother of the head chef and the grandson of the man who founded the restaurant just after the second world war. Yamada was dressed in an indigo samue (Japanese work pyjamas), with a rock star’s quiff and wispy beard. He was to be serving us that evening, tending to the already white-hot charcoal.
A challenging note was struck by the appetiser, a small bowl of bee larvae cooked for six hours tsukudani-style, but thereafter our meal at Yanagiya was a parade of transcendent, fat-cloaked local game impaled on wooden skewers, stuck into the ashes, angled towards the glowing coals and grilled to perfection. Wild duck skin was chewy and dripping with the bird’s juices, and followed by its tenderloin and breast. Then came the wild boar.
“Virgins always taste best,” declared Yamada-san as he pushed the skewers of boar into the ashes. Each chunk of meat was insulated by a thick parenthesis of glistening, soon-to-be blistering, yellow fat. “Virgin meat is soft, and the fat is sweeter. They eat wild taro and chestnuts.” It was as if the beast had gorged on gummy bears. Next was venison, with the taste of herbs and iron. Again, the fat was the star. It made my hair stand on end a primeval frisson of pleasure.
I asked Yamada about the secret of Yanagiya’s online popularity. “I think it is because what we do is so personal, each room with its own chef,” he told me as he basted a duck leg with the restaurant’s 70-year-old soy/ginger sauce. “It’s very rare, this way of cooking. Plus, of course, the meat is all local, everything is from nature. My father was a very strange guy. Even back 30 or 40 years ago, he insisted on that when everyone else was into farm-raised wagyu [beef]. You know the problem with wagyu? It all tastes the same.”
‘We want to keep our regulars happy.’ Photograph: Courtesy of Yanagiya
He talked us through the seasons. Duck is good in November. December is wild boar. In spring come slightly bitter, foraged ferns and fresh-water trout. Late spring is the season for the revered ayu, or “sweet fish”. After the summer come the matsutake, the Japanese porcini, as precious as truffles. Later in the year they serve what Yamada coyly calls “the secret bird”.
As he talked, one of the paper screens slid open and in toddled a small boy with long, thick, glossy black hair. This was Shu, Yamada’s four-year-old son. “I hope he will work here one day,” he said as Shu presented me with his business card in the formal, two-handed manner. On it was written “Shume Yamada”, “head waiter”.
As my two teenage sons played with Shu, the rice that signaled the end of the meal was served. I asked his father about the “ichigensan okotowari” closed reservation system.
“It’s not about keeping foreigners out. We want to keep our regulars happy,” Yamada replied mildly. “We have customers who have been coming here for decades, one of them for 36 years in a row, and they need to be able to come every time. That is more important to us than filling every place every night.”
Is Yanagiya the best restaurant in the world? Define best. To my wife, my kids and me, that evening it was, and clearly many Japanese people have felt the same way over many years. Yanagiya swaddled us in its convivial embrace, fed us delicious things (for about £80 a head), and sent us out into the night sated, content and with memories to savour. That’s as good a definition as I can muster.
Try a different sort of green leaf salad with our seaweed salad recipe. Not only is seaweed delicious and wondrously simple to prepare, it’s also packed full of health benefits. This recipe is easy to whip up, and makes a fine addition to a bento box, or a divine side to main dishes like taco rice. Be sure to shop our range of seaweed on Japancentre.com
50g of dried seaweed/sea vegetable salad
1 tbsp awase miso
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp mirin
1 tbsp white roasted sesame seeds
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tsp rice vinegar
1 tsp yuzu juice
1 red chilli, finely sliced
pinch of sea salt
How To Prepare
First of all, let’s get this seaweed re-hydrated. You can use a ready assembled sea vegetable salad, or use a combination of wakame and hijiki seaweed. Simply place in a bowl of water for twenty minutes.
While the seaweed is soaking, prepare the dressing. This is as easy as combining the miso, soy sauce, mirin, sesame seeds, sesame oil, rice vinegar, yuzu juice, chilli and salt in a bowl and stirring with a whisk. The mixture should not be too thick and should have a delightful aroma.
Drain the seaweed after rehydrating. Slice into appropriate bite sized pieces if using wakame or other whole seaweed varieties. Place in a bowl and pour over the dressing. Stir, and add a smattering of additional sesame seeds on top and chill before serving.
10. LanZhou Ramen
The city of Lanzhou is the noodle capital of China, and Buford Highway strip-mall joint LanZhou Ramen is the noodle capital of metro Atlanta. It’s not in every city that you can find Lanzhou-style, hand-pulled noodles, which are nothing short of an art form. You can (and should) observe their creation by gazing into LanZhou’s kitchen through a picture window that dramatically frames the hypnotic act of rolling, stretching, and spinning the cascading tendrils of springy dough. The resulting noodles—or, if you prefer, the thicker, knife-cut ones—show up in bowls of fragrant beef broth brimming with wilted greens and tender meat, or stir-fried with your choice of three spice options: regular, spicy, or laced with cumin seeds. These noodles are so long that your server will arm you with a pair of scissors. Of course, you might rather just slurp them until the end of time.