Yonemura: 'Japanese-French fusion' restaurant in Ginza, Tokyo
Reviewed by Lukas Kratochvil
If you want to dazzle your friends with sophisticated modern Japanese cuisine and a touch of French culinary wizardry, do yourself a favour and do not take them to Yonemura, the Tokyo branch of a Kyoto restaurant.
I was excited before my visit to Yonemura, a Michelin starred establishment that is marketed as 'Japanese-French fusion', but essentially serves modern Japanese food with some nods to foreign influences. Sadly, despite the impressive use of top quality ingredients sourced from Yonemura's Kyoto base, the overall experience can only be described as underwhelming.
Located on the restaurant floor of a shopping complex in Ginza, the over-lit modern interior exudes a proper, but somewhat cold atmosphere. The coldness extends to the reservedly polite but unenthusiastic and slow staff.
We ordered the eleven course menu for 14,000 yen. Most courses would have been perfectly matched by sake. In eager anticipation, we opened the drinks menu to examine the undoubtedly extensive sake selection to find one solitary sake. The waiters quickly confirmed that Yonemura indeed only serves one dry sake made in Kyoto especially for the restaurant. The sake was of excellent quality, but the choice was somewhat limited. Imagine asking at a top French restaurant what wines they served and the answer being "red."
The drinks menu did feature a small but fine Burgundy and Bordeaux-dominated wine list. We opted for an Austrian white, a 2004 Gruner Veltliner by F.X. Pichler, one of Austria's premier producers, priced at a sensible 9,000 Yen. Gruner Veltliner is an internationally increasingly popular, very food-friendly Austrian grape variety. The wine was crisp with pronounced minerality, herbal notes and a peppery taste, a good match for most of the courses.
The drinks issue finally resolved, we began looking forward to the first course, which was cryptically titled "Iberico ham and cheese sandwich with edible wild plants". What magic would lie behind the 'cheese and ham sandwich' terminology, we wondered. What Michelin-starred creativity? The resolution was simple: an actual ham and cheese sandwich, with cardboard-like bread of the kind favoured by convenience stores. If the restaurant aimed to surprise, they certainly succeeded. The 'edible wild plants', in case you were wondering, were two pickled mountain vegetables that added nothing except an ill-fitting contrast to our school lunch quality sandwich.
The remaining courses were more appropriate for a restaurant of Yonemura's price level. I will recount some of the more interesting ones.
'Consomme royal with snapping turtle' consisted of savoury custard (chawan mushi) with daikon (Japanese radish) mousse, yuzu (Japanese citrus fruit) rind flakes and soft, briny snapping turtle. A good but not great dish: too much yuzu damaged the delicate balance of the 'consomme'.
Deep fried tilefish with pear, scallion and duck sounded good on paper but merely confused the palate. The very fresh tilefish had a wonderfully crunchy skin and subtle fish flavour. The smoked duck combined relatively well with the scallion and some raw pear. In addition, there was a strong note of aniseed. This could have been a great dish, but there were far too many competing flavours, and the two pieces of pear were inappropriately large and dominant. Someone tried to be too creative and it did not work.
If you like it briny and slimy, you would have enjoyed the chilled pasta with sea cucumber, essentially taramasalata-flavoured pasta with fairly tasteless, rubbery abalone-like sea cucumber. This is not to put down the quality of the dish: it was very fresh and tasted as it should if that sort of thing is for you. It is not for me.
The highlight of the evening was grilled sirloin and fillet of Kyoto steak with wasabi and soy sauce, accompanied by rape blossoms and ebi-imo (literally "shrimp potato", a type of taro from Kyoto, with a shrimp-like pattern on the skin). The medium-rare beef showcased the very best of top quality Japanese beef, with its melt-in-the-mouth quality making up for some less impressive dishes that went before.
The beef gave us the strength to ignore the next dish, a course of Japanese curry and rice, and enjoy a dessert of excellent, rich cheese cake. One final gimmick a slice of brie on the cake that was barely perceptible by the taste buds and we were presented with the bill.
Yonemura is not a bad restaurant at all. But in a city blessed with unparalleled culinary perfection, it is an experience you can afford to miss.
Name Yonemura レストランよねむら
Kojun Bldg.,4F, 6-8-7 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0061
Phone +81 3 5537 6699
Opening times 12:00pm-3:30pm, 5:30pm-11:00pm (lunch menu 6,000 10,000 yen) Closed Mon.
Credit cards? Yes
Foreigner friendly? Yes English menu, some English spoken.
Non-smoking section? Yes all non-smoking; one ashtray by the exit.