Known for their complex flavour profiles, respect for seasonality and their rigorous preparation of ingredients, the Japanese have intrigued and dazzled foodies for centuries. For most, cooking Japanese at home hasn’t quite progressed further than sushi, but in the restaurant landscape, Japan’s star is rising.
With the overwhelming health benefits of the nation’s ingredients (think seaweed, green tea, matcha, miso and other highly nutritious fermented foods) it’s no surprise that global tastes have swayed in the direction of Japan. Studies have now proven that the Japanese diet can reduce the risk of certain cancers and heart problems.
Japan’s rise on the culinary landscape is being seen both from the country itself and further afield with both Japanese and Japan-influenced restaurants frequently appearing on the world’s best lists. The following establishments have caught our eye, globally mastering the art of Japanese influences in their award-winning kitchens.
Chef Yoshihiro Narisawa labels his food as “innovative Satoyama”. Satoyama being the area between mountain foothills and flat land where inhabitants live in reverence of nature. While Narisawa spent nearly a decade climbing the ranks of celebrity kitchens globally, it was in Japan that he finally chose to create his opus. Here, diners can expect seasonally specific dishes inspired by the provinces. Championing sustainable cuisine, Narisawa sources locally, ethically and with zero food waste, scooping Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants – Sustainable Restaurant Award in 2013.
Two-Michelin-starred Den in Tokyo is chef Zaiyu Hasegawa’s ode to home cooking but make no mistake, this is homemade food taken to new heights. The kaiseki style restaurant famously treats its guests with the warmth of family and offers a menu that placed it 11th in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2021. The Dentucky Fried Chicken – paired with Japanese Sticky Rice and Chicken Ginseng Soup – is apparently a must. Sourcing only the very best ingredients, he has taken traditional Japanese cuisine and made it deeply personal and famously good.
Beyond the country’s borders, many of the world’s top restaurants take their inspiration from Japan, incorporating its clean flavours and complex techniques into their menus. Herewith, some of the world’s best establishments reinterpreting Japanese cuisine.
That FYN has yet again been listed by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants in its brief three-and-a-half-year lifespan, is nothing short of remarkable. Ranking 37 this year, the Cape Town based neoteric Japanese restaurant is the vision of chef Peter Tempelhoff. Diners here can expect a meeting of South African and Japanese cuisines where Japanese techniques, ethos and some of the flavours meet South African ingredients. The Outeniqua Springbok, Kabocha Squash, Hokkaido Pumpkin, Shiitake and Caramelised Onion Jus is one such union, blending the stories and ingredients of Africa with Japan.
Meticulous precision, design flair and contemporary, gourmet spirit all come together at the new Mory Sacko at Louis Vuitton in St Tropez, France. Spearheaded by the Michelin-starred French West African chef Mory Sacko, here he reinvents traditional Japanese dishes and infuses them with markedly African flavours, presenting as gourmet bento box-style meal kits called ekiben. The Roasted Sea Bream in Banana Leaf with Coconut Curry, Aloe Vera and Lime is just one example of his West meets East fusion.
Lima, Peru is the unlikely address for this Japanese inspired establishment. A regular on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list – Maido, like FYN, takes from both nations and innovates a fusion. With his roots in Japan and his birthplace in Lima, chef Mitsuharu “Micha” Tsumura gave rise to the notion of Peruvian Nikkei cuisine. Here, seafood is the star of the show with Peru’s famed ceviche taking centre stage. Off the back of 50 hours or cooking time, the beef short rib is reportedly so tender that it requires only a spoon to enjoy.
With its name nodding to the traditional earthenware pots used in Peruvian fire cooking, Clay is a fusion restaurant bringing Nikkei cuisine to Dubai. The menu’s Japanese-Peruvian union manifests as Sake Taco, Katsu Sando, Soft Shell Crab Bao, various ceviches and Prawn and Tofu Tempuras among a smorgasbord of other Nikkei style dishes. Food inspired by the elements, intricate techniques and nuanced flavour are all part of the promise at Clay.
Ranking as the only Michelin-starred Japanese restaurant in Portugal, Midori is the vision of chef Pedro Almeida. “Japanese with a Portuguese soul” is the philosophy that carries Midori’s menu, showcasing Japanese fine dining using the best quality ingredients against a backdrop of the spectacular Sintra Mountains. Choose from the eight moment Kiri menu or the nine moment Yama menu which include the likes of omiotsuke (miso soup), yakimono (grilled and pan-fried dishes) and more.
Taking after the izakaya – a traditional Japanese bar with food – the elegant Karusu in Brooklyn, New York is the brainchild of chef Yael Peet. Here, an artfully created sharing menu is informed by the concept of washoku, a philosophy striving for culinary balance by incorporating a diversity of flavours, textures and colours. Naturally, the menu is accompanied by a mean cocktail list that reinterprets the classics and rubs shoulders with sake, Japanese whisky and shochu. Enter through the back door of Walter’s.