9 | 3.5 | 2.5 | 1.5
- One of the best steaks in the world
- Most supporting dishes are good too
- Young talented chef that will get better with time
- A few “miss” supporting dishes
- Not as good as Kawamura…yet
- Steak Tartare
TL;DR – One of the four best steakhouses in Tokyo. While you can’t go wrong any of them, the easiest to access is Hirayama.
What is the one thing that I think Japan does better than any other place in the world?
While sushi, tonkatsu and ramen in Japan is amazing, the rest of the world is at least in the same league. The gap between the beef in Japan and the rest of the world, however, is so big that they are barely playing the same sport.
Wagyu Tenderloin from Miyazaki.
For those who, like me, are on the pursuit of beef perfection, I recommend Sumiyaki (grilled over charcoal) rather than Teppanyaki (grilled on iron plate). With teppanyaki, heat is applied directly to the meat which can overheat it but with a charcoal oven, a skilled chef can cook the meat in a way that makes the outer surface crispy and fragrant while the inside is still moist and juicy. As an added bonus, the fat that melts off the steak falls onto the charcoal where it burns and rises back up to give the meat a delicate, smoky aroma.
While the restaurant ratings and rankings on the indispensable Tabelog are perennially changing, there are four main players in the Tokyo Sumiyaki Steakhouse game –
- Ginza Hirayama
Kawamura, not only houses 8 seats at the counter and is introduction only, but doesn’t open if Chef Kawamura san is unable to source the best wagyu, simply advising diners “to come and eat another time”, making it the hardest reservation in the world. So hard that a mere 18 foreign customers have been served in the last ten years.
Known to be the best, the food here is as good and expensive as the reservations are hard to get. Not only is Kawamura the undisputed best steak you can have in Tokyo but Chef Kawamura is also a dedicated pursuer of the best ingredients worldwide – his caviar is sourced straight from Kazakhstan, and according to the grapevine, half of the best white truffle in Tokyo go to his restaurant.
Shima, a favourite of Momofuku’s David Chang, source their wagyu from an independent network of suppliers outside Kyoto where nobody else in Tokyo is doing so. They also have a bespoke rotisserie kiln furnace, one of the reasons their steaks are so special.
Aragawa, while overpriced and highly debated, cannot be ignored. Though the ambiance is dull, the reason it is one of the most expensive restaurants in the world is because Aragawa uses only purebred Tajima cattle raised in Sanda that have won championship prizes at exhibitions. Sanda is the most premium form of Kobe beef with just 1,000 cattle raised annually, compared to 3,000 for all Kobe beef.
And finally Ginza Hirayama, the up and coming, the focus of this post. Kawamura, Shima and Ginza Hirayama all have one connection – they have all worked at Yutaka steakhouse in Gion, Kyoto. Given the previous graduates of Yutaka steakhouse, I’d say you’re in good hands with Hirayama san.
Hirayama san doing what he enjoys most.
Hirayama san is the youngest of the three, almost half the age of Kawamura san at a tender age of 34, but don’t for a second let that deter you. Opening a restaurant bearing your own name at such a young age, in a country that is all about respect for elders, proves his tremendous talent. Not only was the beef superb, but the supporting dishes were of Michelin quality. Hirayama san’s French technique puts many capable French chefs to shame.
Kawamura san’s influence can very much be felt. Beyond the obvious uncompromising pursuit of perfection, nowhere are the similarities more evident than in the food. Abalone with caviar, tartare, curry rice and creme caramel regularly feature across both menus.
Wagyu Tenderloin from Miyazaki.
Similarly, Hirayama san has no loyalty to provenance or gender and will simply buy whatever is best, on this occasion from Miyazaki. The Tenderloin is up there with some of the best I’ve had. Unlike Sirloin, it doesn’t melt in your mouth but is, instead, incredibly meaty and impossibly tender. So much so that the knife provided was redundant; you could cut the steak with a fork.
The major difference between Kawamura and Ginza Hirayama is that it is possible to book the latter. For now at least.
Hirayama san preparing the Wagyu Tenderloin.
In 2015, for the very first time, Ginza Hirayama was rated higher than Kawamura on Tabelog. Though it was only for a short period, it’s significant for a few reasons. It shows that Hirayama san can be as good as Kawamura san, that he can be the best, and that he may one day reach perfection.
That day may not be today, and it may not be tomorrow. But if he keeps cooking the way he does, not only will his day come but he may one day be the best graduate of Yutaka steakhouse yet – better than the famous Kawamura san.
Crab Croquette. That sauce…so good (9/10)
Abalone with Caviar and Onions (7.75/10)
Steak Tartare (8.5/10)
Cream Mushroom Soup (8.25/10)
During. That smile at 0:25.
Miyazaki Tenderloin (9.25/10)
Hirayama san cooking rice over teppan.
I don’t always take close ups of rice, but when I do, it’s some damn good rice.
Garlic Rice (8.5/10)
Curry Rice (8/10)
“What dessert would you like?”
“All of them.”
Clockwise from top left – Baked Cheesecake, Sponge Cake, Matcha Ice Cream, Creme Caramel (7/10)
So fellow foodies, what is your favourite Steakhouse in Tokyo?