9 | 3.5 | 2.5 | 2
- The best Sukiyaki in the world
- One of the few Sukiyaki restaurants with Ojiya (read more below)
- Serene traditional Japanese tatami rooms
- That marbling
- Cash only
- Shimofuri Wagyu Sukiyaki
TL;DR – The one Michelin-starred Ishibashi is undoubtedly the best Sukiyaki in the world. Other Sukiyaki restaurants such as Yoshihashi (よしはし) and Hiyama (日山) don’t even come close.
Boiling food is the worst. It’s the laziest of cooking processes. It’s the only cooking process that leeches rather than adds flavour.
Being an Australian with a Chinese background, there was the perennial household clash between the traditional Chinese hot pot and the true blue Aussie barbie. Being a meat lover, I preferred grilling and roasting. I always thought that boiling meat was a waste. It’s the reason I’ve been to Japan five times and never had Sukiyaki or Shabu Shabu once. Why waste the world’s finest wagyu?
Ishibashi has been open since 1879. Photo credit – Gnavi
So with much hesitation, I reserved a seat at the famous one Michelin-starred Ishibashi. Open since 1879, it is not only one of the oldest Sukiyaki and Shabu Shabu restaurants in Japan, but also one of the first restaurants to start selling beef. It is well respected to be the best Sukiyaki and Shabu Shabu restaurant in Tokyo, not by a bit, but by a mile. Other Michelin-starred Sukiyaki restaurants such as Yoshihashi (よしはし) and Hiyama (日山) don’t even come close.
I figured if I did not like boiling food here, I would not like it anywhere. I could, once and for all, definitively say that boiling food was a waste. But to my surprise, Ishibashi turned out to be one of the best meals of my trip.
So after having the best Sukiyaki in the world, do I think it’s better than Yakiniku (grilling)? No probably not, but it certainly isn’t a waste. The only thing that is a waste is the 25 years where I avoided Sukiyaki. But it’s okay. At Ishibashi, I made up for lost time, in the most spectacular fashion.
Before appetisers and running through the different stages of Sukiyaki, let’s just talk about that marbling. Because this is what you’re here for. You’re not here for the seasonal appetisers, the tofu and vegetables that you eat with your sukiyaki or the unique Ojiya ending.
I could write a thousand words, but nothing will compel you to book a flight and go to Ishibashi more than this.
So there it is, in all its glory. Don’t cheap out and get the regular Wagyu. If you’re at Ishibashi, you absolutely must order Shimofuri Wagyu (¥14,000 course).
Today, Ishibashi’s Shimofuri Wagyu comes from black-haired cattle in Miyazaki. Shimofuri is Japanese for marbling, the beautiful pattern of fat throughout the meat. Ishibashi only uses sirloin as it is one of the best cuts for shimofuri.
So back to the boring stuff now shall we?
Ishibashi’s Washitsu (和室) or Traditional Japanese Tatami Rooms.
While you’ll find Washitsu (traditional Japanese tatami rooms) in a lot of regional Japan, it is increasingly uncommon in the fast-paced and modernised Tokyo. It’s an unforgettable experience to step through sliding doors and be transported in place and time, to momentarily forget about the world.
If you haven’t experienced dining in a Washitsu before, that in itself may justify the price of the meal.
Appetiser of Seasonal Radish and Grilled Fish (7/10)
The meal will start with 2 seasonal appetisers. Nothing groundbreaking here, but they do well to open up your appetite for the foodgasm that is about to ensue.
Shimofuri Wagyu Round 2 (9.75/10)
What the foreplay is over already? Well here it is again, in all its glory.
Wait are those triangles of fat? Why yes of course. In Kansai-style sukiyaki, beef tallow (a rendered form of beef fat) is melted in a shallow cast iron pan before the beef and vegetables are cooked in it. Fatty beef cooked in its own fat? Sign me up.
Fatty Wagyu cooked in its own fat.
Technically, it’s not only cooked in its fat. If it was, it would be deep frying, not boiling.
After some of the beef tallow has been rendered down, a secret sukiyaki sauce, passed down through generations and only known to the owners, is added. The Nakai (traditional waitress in Japanese), proceeds to cook all the food for you so you can relax or watch eagerly in anticipation.
Round 1 – Shimofuri Wagyu with Raw Egg
Round 2 – Shimofuri Wagyu with Spring Onions, Tofu and Noodles
Round 3 – Shimofuri Wagyu with Enoki Mushrooms, Vegetables and Onions
Round 4 – Shimofuri Wagyu with Spring Onions and Vegetables.
You start with just one slice of beef and egg, so you can get the maximum taste of the beef. Except the meat completely dissolves in your mouth before you had any chance of tasting. So you’re left with a beautiful balance of sweet, savoury and umami from the sukiyaki sauce that is as complex as the meat was tender. Foodgasm.
Then you start adding tofu, vegetables and noodles. The tofu was a standout; blackened to carry a smokiness that enhanced the sukiyaki sauce. The noodles, a perfect sponge for that amazing sukiyaki sauce.
Most Sukiyaki restaurants don’t have Ojiya, so the Ojiya at Ishibashi is a must order. Once you finish your Sukiyaki, your Nakai will add egg and rice to the remaining sauce and meat juices.
Ojiya – Additional ¥1000 (8/10)
The result is possibly the best egg rice you will ever have.
Probably the saddest plate of fruit I’ve ever had, because it signalled the end of the meal.
A memory of the past in the modernised Tokyo.
I’ve been told that many politicians and celebrities eat at Ishibashi. I’m not surprised.
If you prefer Shabu Shabu it’s ¥8,000, but Ishibashi is more known for their Sukiyaki. They also have a meat store right next door so you can purchase the wagyu you just ate.
So fellow foodies, what’s your favourite method of cooking meat? Boiling or grilling?