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Feb 13, 2008 08:08 PM

How far in advance do I need to make reservations?

Is it much easier for lunch than dinner?
I am speaking about consensus, very good to excellent, restaurants in Tokyo.
Are reservations always recommended at very good spots?
I know capacity per is quite low.
Wondering where I can walk in or wait a reasonable amount of time(less than 30min),also.
I realize this is quite vague but a list would be too long.
If specifics might help, please let me know.

Thank you.

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  1. If you say 'very good to excellent', I will limit the response to Michelin starred restaurants (although obviously there is a huge amount of excellent restaurants in Tokyo which have no stars). The answer is that it depends. In terms of the French, Italian or Chinese Michelin starred restaurants, it is generally a lot easier than in would be to book equivalent restaurants in other countries. For example, you can generally get a table at Robuchon (3***) if you try to reserve on the day you wish to dine there. The same also applies to many Michelin starred restaurants which are located within hotels (Twenty One, China Blue, etc.). With the exception of Robuchon, 3*** restaurants are generally harder to book at short notice (Quintessence is almost impossible, L'Osier is hard), while 2** are surpringly easy. In terms of the top Japanese restaurants, it tends to be harder. Many have regulars and are notoriously difficult to book, which often is also due to the fact that they are very small (for example, many sushi places just have a few counter seats). Your best bet, if you cannot commit weeks in advance, is to accept eating late and make a booking at a restaurant which is open until after midnight. Koju (3***) and Ryugin (2**) are both absolutely fantastic, and open until 2 a.m. Occasionally, people come in at 11 p.m. for dinner. Your best bet is to book well in advance and get a table at a more humane time, but if that is not an option, Koju and Ryugin should be bookable at relatively short notice (it was a week in my case).

    26 Replies
    1. re: Asomaniac

      Hi Asomaniac: I have tried Ryugin but not Koju. Interested to try new places on my next trip, most likely April. Is Koju a kaiseki place? How do you enjoy the food there compared to Ryugin or other 1 or 2 Michelin starred palces?

      1. re: FourSeasons

        Four Seasons,

        Koju is classical Japanese kaiseki with a contemporary touch. You get three small starters, sashimi, grilled fish, a wagyu dish, unagi, rice, soup and several desserts. So far, so kaiseki. What makes it special is the occasional usage of very surprising ingredients (in that sense it has something in common with Ryugin) and the almost unbelievable quality control Mr Okuda - the owner-chef, exercises. The set-up sounds boringly familiar enough. But the fatty tuna and squid, for example, were simply the best pieces of sashimi I had ever had. The crab was up there as well. The chef is also a qualified sommelier and matches your meal with wines (three excellent burgundies and a bordeaux in our case). There is a counter with six seats only, plus a few small private rooms. You spend a lot of time communicating with the chef, and leave a happy person. The prices are incredibly reasonable, given the quality (I asked him why he keeps his place open until 2 a.m. and he responded that rents in Ginza are high and he doesn't want to pass them on to his customers..). If you are interested in more details, please let me know. What did you think of Ryugin?

        1. re: FourSeasons

          Four Seasons:

          I forgot to answer your other question: in comparison to Ryugin or other 1-2 Michelin star restaurants, Koju does well. If I had to choose between one or the other, I would likely go with Ryugin because it is more exciting and offers a lot of new perspectives. However, you can't beat Koju for quality. For example, the sashimi there is better, no question about it (even though at Ryugin, it is also always extremely good). It depends what you are after on the night, something a little more classical or more contemporary. But in their respective categories, I can't think of any restaurants right now which I would rate more highly.

          1. re: Asomaniac

            Thanks for the recommendation and review of Koju, and the comparison to Ryugin. I just visited the website as well, it is very likely that I will try Koju on this coming trip. Judging by the small size and the reasonable pricing for a 3 star Michelin place, I am surprised the reservation is not that difficult. I actually don't mind to go for a late dinner.

            I like Ryugin as much as you do, and really admire the creative style of the chef. But with just 4 nights and 3 days planned on this coming trip, I am not sure if I will visit Ryugin again. There are just simply too many places I want to go and not enough time to visit them all. Glancing thru my list is about 30 places (10 new ones and 20 old favorites) that i need to narrow down to 7-8 meals. Not an easy task!!!

            Interestingly, your recommendation of Aso on the other thread is one of 10 new places on my list and the only non-Japanese one. I have heard great things about it from my friend. Again, more likely to miss it as I will probably focus on complete Japanese package on this trip.

            1. re: FourSeasons

              If you are here for such a short time, you are absolutely right not to go to Ryugin again but try something new instead. Also, you will no doubt get top notch contemporary Italian back home, so no need to go to Aso. Having said that, Aso really is excellent. Also, they do use Japanese ingredients as well (the sea urchin roe / foie gras / truffle sauce combination was amazing, as was a kani-miso dish which I normally don't like that much). They do certain things in ways I have never had anywhere else, and if you have more time on a subsequent trip to Japan, you might enjoy giving Aso a go. Re: Koju, even though Koju is often remarkably easy to book, it is not always the case and I would book as soon as possible, if you can.

              May I ask you for recommendations? What Japanese restaurants (other than sushi, tempura, soba or teppan yaki) would you particularly recommend?

              1. re: Asomaniac

                Some of the places that I have enjoyed in the past trips and recommended in previous threads:

                -seafood: Nabua Roppongi.

                -Japanese oysters bar, yakitori and contemporary fusion: Maimom

                -shabu shau/sukiyaki : Seryna and Imahan

                -kobe beef: small Japan-style steak house Makoto in Ninhonbashi,

                -yakiniku : toraji chain and jojoen chain

                -fugu : tettiri chain

                -Oden: otako chain

                I have heard great things about this place called Aronia de Takazawa that I may want to try on this trip as well. Do you know anything about it?

                1. re: FourSeasons

                  Aronia de Takazawa: I am eating there on 22 March for the first time. It took me a while to get a reservation as they only have two tables (plus I wanted a Saturday), but I have heard great things about it and the e-mail exchanges with the wife of the owner make me look forward to the experience even more - very friendly, very dedicated to great food by the looks of it. If you are interested, I can send you a review after the event.

                  Thank you for the recommendations!

                  1. re: Asomaniac

                    Aso, thanks.
                    I am interested in a few Mich 2/3 *, yes, but also the good local joints, as well. Problem with listing names, is I have not narrowed down a list on the latter, yet.
                    L'Osier, I didn't take a dinner slot(about 25 days in advance)as I had nobody to dine with, possibly, that night.They were very booked up, though, in general. I did really want to go(especially for lunch, like everyone else). Quintessens(backup),either a busy signal or a recording and that was on various days.

                    After your post,I have added Koju, looks like the menu is about 14kJPY,as you said, low for his ranking. Also,had the Aso restaurants in mind,though it seems that Rist. Aso is superior to the sister.
                    Now,I only have about 2-3weeks advance notice to get a good slot at one of these.Hopefully, I can.

                    1. re: gambit50

                      There is a more expensive omakase menu at Koju and it is seasonal around 20000 yen

                    2. re: Asomaniac

                      Hi Asomaniac:

                      Thanks for telling me the early booking for Aronia de Takazawa. I immediately emailed for a reservation after reading your post, but unfortunately the dinners on the first week of April were full. Finally lucky enough to manage to get a lunch spot.

                      I would sure love to hear a review from you before my turn. Thanks again!

            2. re: FourSeasons

              Hi FourSeasons and gambit50, it took me one month in advance to book at Koju for a counter seat of 2 at 8:30pm. We originally want another day but that day is fully booked even one month in advance.

              Also, you may run into communication problem while booking at Koju. But the chef told me he is taking English lesson. Koju does very best at hospitality and the chef is very nice. Food is exceptional as Asomaniac mentioned !!

              FYI, the chef at Ryugin and Koju took apprenticeship in the same famous classic Japanese restaurant. So it is not surprising they have something in common.

              1. re: skylineR33

                Thanks for the specific info, Skyline,
                I am trying to have someone with access to a couple Japanese speakers to get this reservation, now, anyhow, as I do not want to use my own.
                Since time is not an issue for me, and hopefully not my guest, I hope Koju will work out.L'Osier and Quintessens are hopeless, as far as I can tell.
                What about reservations at a place like Cicada? Necessary, hard, etc.
                Yes, I will have more. Until then...

                1. re: gambit50

                  Gambit - reservations at Cicada are necessary, at least on a Friday, but no more than a week in advance. If you go during the week, you might even get away with not booking, although I would not risk it (I have in the past both succeeded and been turned away when I was in the Nishi Azabu area and decided on the spot without reservation during the week that dinner at Cicada would be a good idea). L'Osier and Quintessence are, as you say, pretty impossible. Quintessence if I am not mistaken only actually takes calls between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., so you will just get the answering machine or the busy signal most of the time.

                  1. re: Asomaniac

                    Y, I know about Q's time for reservations. No dice.
                    L'Osier seemed possible but limited, say a month in advance.
                    Just to clarify on Cicada, would you say reservations necessary even for walking in late, 11 or 12 on a weekday?
                    I can eat at 11 or 12 at Koju, too.Not sure if I can get others to agree to these CRAZY times. Maybe will just go myself.
                    Is that acceptable at Koju and/or Cicada?

                    1. re: gambit50

                      I think you would have to be really unlucky if on a weekday at Cicada you don't get a seat as late as that. I'd still check with them beforehand though if they stop seating people at some point (I think they are open until 1 o'clock so would have thought you'll be fine, but might as well give them a ring to make sure).

                      With Koju, I am sure you can go at 11 p.m. - I have seen people come in that late for dinner, even a bit later. But you do need a reservation, even at such late hour. You would need to be amazingly lucky to walk in at 11 p.m. without reservation and still get a seat.

                2. re: skylineR33

                  Skyline - seriously, was Koju that booked up? I guess maybe I was lucky or it was because I was willing to eat at 10 p.m., but I have been quite a few times now and it has never been a problem (though the first time round, I tried to book for 7:30, and that was completely hopeless!). Not sure how his English is as I speak Japanese, but a friend went the other day who can barely say 'hello' in Japanese, and he said that he and the chef were communicating reasonably well! If he puts the same sort of devotion and attention into his English language studies as he does into his food, he'll be fluent in the near future.. Interesting to hear that he and the Ryugin chef apprenticed at the same place, thanks for the info.

                  1. re: Asomaniac

                    Hi Asomaniac: SkylineR33 is correct that you need one month notice for a reservation in Kojyu. I have been trying to book a dinner slot for early April. The first request was at 6:30pm on my first evening, thinking it may be easy to get such an early slot. I was rejected. Then I request an 8:30pm slot, or anything later than that on the last evening, and I got rejected again. Finally, my hotel concierge simply inform them the four evenings I stay in Tokyo and they finally gave me the ONLY available slot at 9:30pm on a different night. It was either take it or leave it. I just grab it quickly. I am wondering if you had an easy time booking prior to its Michelin status. It seems that 1 months notice is needed now.

                    Just another question to you and SkylineR33, did you guys pick the 13k or 18k menu? Which one do you recommend? I read on another review that while the food in Koyju is very fresh, he complained that it is a bit bland and he wished the food is more salty or oily. Do you agree?

                    1. re: FourSeasons

                      I had the 18k menu. I would say the food at Kojyu is more straight forward, not as twisted as other establishments as the highlight is to bring out the true taste of the ingradients. It is not as oily and salty, as it is the purpose of the chef I believe.

                      The beef and the fish dishes are just right, they just smell so food as well, I don't think it will help if it is more salty or oily. The soup is clear, but it is refreshing. The rice at the end is mild, I think this is inline with the intend of kaiseki, which does not have strong favour in it's last course. The salty and oily level is ok with me except may be the soup, but I can see why people think this way.

                      1. re: FourSeasons

                        FourSeasons: I absolutely agree with Skuline, the food should not be more salty or oily. I would actually have been quite upset if it had been. You get the pure flavours of teh ingredients, they are not smothered and obscured with saltiness or oil.

                        I must say I guess I must have been lucky in terms of bookijng Koju, several times - I have only been after Koju got the stars, but never had a problem getting a table with a week's notice (or two). It was always for a relatively late dinner, and I was not wedded to a particular day, so if not Monday, then Tuesday or Wednesday was fine, too.

                        18k menu, though I am sure 13k is absolutely fine, too. But if you are coming from abroad and are not here all the time, I'd recommend to spend the extra 5k.

                    2. re: skylineR33

                      Hi SkylineR33:

                      How do you compare your experience in Koju vs Kikunoi? Which one would you select to go back for just once again? I would like to try both of them but just have enough room for one comtemporary kaiseki style dinner on this coming trip. Will appreciate your advise.

                      1. re: FourSeasons

                        Koju is a neat cozy restaurant, the dishes are very tasty which concentrate on bringing out the true flavour and freshness of the ingradients with a relatively "not-as-complex" way of cooking I think. Besides the unbelievably fresh well-prepared squid, the waygyu beef is perfectly grilled, I do not notice much action and cannot smell any smoke from the grill right in the corner of a very small room. Everything is smoothly flow.

                        I think the food at kikunoi are more interesting with the a good balance of cooking technique, presentation, atmosphere and those lovely pottery/utensil used to hold the food, everything is in harmony. The duck pot I had in there is presented inside a custom-made metallic vessel to keep the temperature, which I think is considerable. It is just not simply pleasing to the palate but also gives me a good sense of Japanese traditional feeling while enjoying the declicious kaiseki with in traditional decorated room !

                        There is also more twist in the food at Kikunoi, it is traditional with its long history and experience in Kaiseki with all the respect, but the chef also improves and uses different cooking style he attained in all these years.

                        I would say in term of tasty level, Koju has a little edge over Kikunoi. Both are great Japanese cuisine, each has its stength, so it really up to one's preference.

                        But for people who have not been to both, I would suggest to go to Koju "if" I have to pick one. But for myself, if I have a chance to go again, I think I will go to Kikunoi only to see more dishes as there is a long list of different dishes at Kikunoi.

                        Hope this helps and wish you have a great meal in either one !

                        1. re: skylineR33

                          Yes, nicely parsed, skyline. I need to get someone on these reservations. I would chose Koju myself, reinforced by your piece.

                          1. re: skylineR33

                            Hi skylineR33:

                            Thanks for the review. I think I will follow your advise. Maybe will try Kinunoi on the next trip or when I have a chance to go to Kyoto. I already planned 2 contemporary kaiseki style meals and thought adding a third one will be too overwhelming for this trip.

                    3. re: Asomaniac

                      I keep calling Quintessence for an end of month reservation and even though I am calling within the hours when the website says they take reservations, I can only get a recorded message. Does this mean they are fully booked? I know its a longshot but does anybody know how I can go about speaking to someone (in English).

                      Desperate in Montreal.

                      1. re: thelonious777

                        Thelonius, I think the best advice would be to go for another restaurant. Even if you do get through, it is ALWAYS booked up, and you cannot book many months in advance (2 months is their maximum). There are so many unbelievably good restaurants in Tokyo, I'd just let Quintessence go and enjoy some other fabulous eatery instead.

                        1. re: Asomaniac

                          Thanks. Much appreciated. Their website is quite misleading as to the lead times for reservations. I have no doubt that my trip to Tokyo will be great nonetheless.

                    4. Does anyone know the earliest one can make a reservation at Ryugin? I sent a fax last week asking for a reservation for May 23rd, but I haven't heard back, yet. Open Table only takes reservations for Ryugin up to one month ahead--would that apply to phone/fax reservations, as well?

                      I'm trying to avoid calling them (I hate making phone calls in Japanese), but if I really have to, I guess I will!

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: prasantrin

                        If you have made the hotel reservation, why don't you ask the concierge to help with the reservation at Ryugin? That is why I normally do.

                        1. re: prasantrin

                          Try again - I have my res for 24 May - I faxed them and got same day reply.