If you think getting a reservation at a three Michelin star restaurant in NYC is tough, Japan has definitely got that beat. Most top tier restaurants in Tokyo don’t even accept reservations directly from foreigners.
Unless your hotel concierge is willing to help you out or you know someone who lives in Japan, you’ll have a very tough time. Restaurants in Tokyo are tiny and typically seat less than 20 people a night. Some restaurants are booked 6-9 months out in advance and there are a number of them that don’t even accept reservations from new customers anymore – only regulars!
Unfortunately, the policy at my hotel (Shinjuku Granbell) has a policy of not making reservations for guests until they’ve arrived at the hotel. Apparently they’ve been burned too many times with no-shows. So, we sought the help of the Visa concierge and they were able to secure a reservation at Ishikawa for us.
The restaurant is located in a neighborhood of Shinjuku, just off the main Kagurazaka strip. It’s pretty inconspicuous as it’s located on a street that looks like a dark alleyway. I don’t recall there being any apparent signage, so we walked into a building hoping it was the right place.
Upon entering the restaurant, we were greeted by a server who guided us to our own private room (it doesn’t cost extra!). The space is made up of several private rooms as well as a small counter where you can watch the chef work.
Being seated in a private room was quite the experience. It was very intimate – just the two of us without any music. We had a dedicated server who was dressed very traditionally in a kimono. During our meal, we noticed something interesting… we’d always thank her after she took away our plates or topped our wine glasses but whenever I said “thank you”, she’d never respond. But whenever Mike said “thank you”, she’d respond with a “my pleasure”. A cultural thing, I suppose.
Ishikawa specializes in Kaiseki cuisine and offers two different menus: one for ¥15,000 and a more expensive menu at ¥19,000 (both + 8% tax + 10% service charge). Since this was our only splurge meal of our Tokyo trip, we went with the ¥19,000. Here’s a look at what was included:
Appetizer – Sea bream milt, hand clam and ‘Udo’ mountain vegetables with sea cucumber innards and Hamabofu
Deep-Fried – baby Ayu fish and ‘Koshiabura’ wild vegetables, micro leek and Myoga sauce
Soup – snow crab and bamboo shoot topped with Japanese pepper bud
Sashimi – trout salmon & sea urchin garnished with fresh seaweed and Japanese herbs
Horsehead snapper topped with wasabi
Charcoal-Grilled – black rockfish and spring Chinese cabbage
Delicacy – spear squid, bamboo shoot and Japanese ‘Tazeri’ vegetable covered with grated white radish sauce
Hot Pot – charcoal grilled Black Throat Sea Perch with seasonal vegetables
Steamed Rice – steamed rice with Japanese duck and green peas, served with miso soup
The chef himself came out to mix up the rice table-side
The finished product
Dessert – red beans, cherry blossoms ager, milk mousse, cherry blossom leaf sherbet and sticky rice
My personal favourites were the sea bream milt, deep fried fish, horsehead snapper and the dessert. Prior to this meal, I had never eaten sea bream milt before. I’m glad they called it “milt” instead of “sperm” which sounds so much less appetizing. This little white pocket was so creamy and delicious! The second course of the meal was fried to perfection. The small fish were incredibly light and crispy without being the least bit greasy. We ended the meal with the perfect dessert – I loved each and every component of it as it made for a really refreshing way to finish off a long meal.
We had a wonderful experience at Ishikawa. Did the food completely blow me away? No. The food was certainly good but it was the overall experience which made it so memorable.
At a glance:
- 3 Michelin star restaurant specializing in Kaiseki cuisine
- Located in Shinjuku, just off the main Kagurazaka strip
- 2 options: ¥15,000 or ¥19,000 menu + 8% tax + 10% service charge
- Seating options: counter seating or private rooms
- English-speaking staff
- Food was good but didn’t completely blow me away; it was the experience on the whole which made it so memorable
Ratings (out of 5):
- Food: 3.5 stars
- Service: 4 stars
- Atmosphere: 4 stars