Affordable Michein-Star meals in Tokyo – Worth it?
Yes. Affordable Michelin-Star meals in Tokyo are one of the cities best selling points. I can think of 5 restaurants off the top of my head that serve Michelin-star meals for less than 20 USD. Some for around 10 USD. If you extend that number to 30USD I can think of even more options, some of them French. The secret is going for lunch. Kyorakutei is one of currently eight Michelin-star Soba restaurants in Tokyo. They serve some of the best best Soba noodles in the world. They are milled daily in the store front window from grains grown in Aizu, north of Tokyo. They’re distinct, nutty, delicious and not even the best thing I ate here.
High Context Dining
Japan definitely has a high context culture. This is a fancy way of saying that you, as a tourist will often have no idea what is going on. You may feel somewhat lost when you arrive at Kyorakutei. I’ll do my best to explain. It’s simple enough, just not immediately obvious. The staff are super helpful too, so feel free to look like an idiot.
When to Arrive and Line Up
Kyorakutei is in one of my absolute favorite neighborhoods in Tokyo. It’s the little Paris of Tokyo. For the lunch special arrive at least 30 minutes early. I was 3rd in line at 11:00. The lunch starts at 11:30. By 11:45 the line was long enough to fill all available seats. If you’re a group it’s safe to wander the area a bit and leave one person waiting. However, be back by 11:25 at the latest as the lady in charge of the seating will come out and ask how many in your group. It’s best to be present and accounted for at this time. At 11:30 on the dot you will be admitted into the restaurant and shown to your seat. I was on my own on a Thursday so I was shown to a counter seat. #underemployedfreelancer
Affordable Michelin-Star meals in Tokyo aren’t all glamour and snootiness. Kyorakutei is extremely relaxed. They are however efficient and dont want you taking too long to order as there is undoubtedly a line of people waiting to be seated at this point. There will be a very cool yet impossible to read handwritten menu at your table when you sit down. Just be patient, the English menu is on the way. The English menu is thorough but only lists the soba dishes. It doesn’t have any of the rotating seasonal side dishes listed. More on this later. My advice; get the Kisetsu Ten Zaru. This is the seasonal tempura with soba served on a bamboo mat. It’s around 20 USD and it is perfect if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the menu. It’s the priciest option so if you’re not a heavy eater there are cheaper, smaller options on the menu.
Once you’ve ordered several dishes will materialize in front of you. On the left we have our oshibori, a hand wipe. Then we have our chopstick and chopstick rest. Pro tip, when not using your chopsticks put them back here. Then we have a small dish, a small pitcher and then a small bowl with a triangular dish on top with wasabi (the freshly grated stuff), grated daikon and shredded leek. First step, somewhere on the table you will see some other small dishes containing soy sauce, a blended chill powder known as shichimi and what appears to be powdered sugar. The powdered sugar is actually a super fancy type of salt used as dip for tempura. The tempura will be out shortly so go ahead and put some salt onto the small dish, as in the photo above..
Affordable Michelin-Star meals in Tokyo – Round 1
Our first round of Tempura has arrived. In the lead we have an entire Ayu. Perched on its fins. When you entered the restaurant you may have noticed a tank at the end of the counter filled with fish, happily minding their own business. Well, there is one on your plate now. This is fresh fish. It is an amphidromous fish but are usually farmed in rivers and lakes. They are known as sweetfish in English and the meat has a delicate cucumber and melon flavor. They are one of my favorite fish. The small ones can be eaten whole, bones and all. They have however been gutted…like 2 minutes ago. Just before being tempura’d. Also on the plate we have maitake mushrooms a tiny, green shishito pepper a chunk of some extremely delicious eggplant. Simply dip in salt and be blown away by how simple this dish is.
Soba Time – Round 2
Despite being one of the most affordable Michelin-star meals in Tokyo they have not skimped on the portions. Here is a massive pile of very fresh soba noodles. They are perfectly chewy and have a nutty flavor that reminded me a little bit of boiled peanuts. Now we need to use the rest of our equipment from the earlier photo.
Remove the triangle plate with the wasabi, daikon and leeks from the top of the small bowl. Then, pour about half the contents of the tiny pitcher into the bowl. This is tsuyu, it’s a dipping sauce for soba noodles. The sauce is cold and the noodles have been brought down to room temperature just after boiling. You can then add the wasabi, daikon and leeks to your dipping sauce in any combination you like. Shortly after a small, very hot, metal teapot will be brought over. This is filled with some of the water that was used to cook your noodles. You can add it the small bowl if you would like to have hotter, less potent dipping sauce. Then simply pick up some noodles, dip into the small bowl and slurp away.
Tempura Redux – Final Round
The crown jewel of the seasonal tempura set. The tail end of a red sea bream. This was incredible. As if someone rubbed a magic lamp and wished for the world’s greatest fish stick. The sea bream was flaky, buttery and extremely soft. Like the inside of a croissant made out of fish meat. The tempura batter just made it all the more luxurious. I dont understand how fish can be prepared like this. There are a lot of busy people behind this counter but only one old dude doing the tempura. He never took his eyes off the vat of oil behind the counter. After preparing each order he would refill the vat with 3 different types of liquid. It was like witchcraft. Apparently even the most affordable Michelin-star meals in Tokyo have their secrets.
Affordable Michelin-star meals in Tokyo – Side Dishes
After eating what was easily the greatest fish stick to ever happen I was damned if I wasn’t going to order more. These are the items that are only written in Japanese on the daily specials menu that was on the table when you entered. If you’re unable to read Japanese and feeling adventurous, just look around. I can read enough Japanese to get by but there were clearly people dining here that were regulars. So, “I’ll have what she’s having.” First up, namero. Namero is Japan’s version of beef tartar. It is knife minced fish (in this case Aji, mackerel) with a bit of miso, green onions and sesame seeds. Incredible.
Gyutsuji. This is Japanese beef tendon stew. This beef was incredibly tender and could be sliced through with chopsticks. It is a toss up for me as to whether this or the tempura red sea bream was my favorite. This is a great dish to top with shichimi chili pepper. Which is in one of the jars on your table. I ordered the half size and was getting pretty full at this point.
However not full enough to pass on their Dashi Maki Tamago. Simply put, this is an omelette made with egg and dashi rolled into a unique, rectangle shape. You can then douse a bit of grated daikon with soy sauce and use it as a topping for each bite of egg. We make this at home often and it is one of my favorite Japanese dishes. The youngest person behind the counter ONLY made this. It was awesome watching him make it. These eggs are cooked evenly throughout with what I believe to be magic. Slap them with your chopstick, look at them jiggle. It’s nuts.
Affordable Michelin-Star meals in Tokyo are a must
Taking advantage of the many affordable Michelin-star meals in Tokyo is a must. I had never been to a Michelin-starred establishment before living here. A quick google search for New York turned up several restaurants, none affordable. This is a great chance to try food from some extremely dedicated foodies. Not to mention that absolutely everything I had here was incredible. Next time I’m coming here with a group. There was so much being eaten around me that I wanted to try but was too full.
MON- Dinner Only
If you’d like to learn more about Kagurazaka, the Little Paris of Tokyo, check out this post.