臼杵ふぐ 山田屋 西麻布
Hidden deep in the criss-crossed streets of Nishi-Azabu, this specialist fugu puffer fish restaurant made its name in the seaside town of Usuki in Oita Prefecture before opening in the competitive restaurant environment of the Tokyo metropolis. One of only twelve three-Michelin star restaurants in Tokyo, and the only one of its kind, this is fugu cuisine in all its glory, prepared by a seasoned chef who works his magic with this intriguing ingredient.
The restaurant group was established in Usuki, Oita Prefecture more than 100 years ago. First under a different name, it became Usukifugu Yamadaya in the 1920s under the second-generation chef who built its strong foundations as a restaurant of traditional Japanese cuisine specializing in fugu puffer fish. Now in the hands of the third generation, the restaurant is committed to carrying on its history and flavors and sharing it with ever more guests through new locations near and far.
The Tokyo location, opened in 2006, faithfully recreates the cuisine from Oita from its Nishi-Azabu space nestled between homes and apartments, epitomizing the term “hidden gem”. The dignified interior hastens expectations as you are led to your seat past fresh flowers and beautiful accoutrements. Paintings from the original restaurant’s collection adorn the walls connecting the private rooms of different styles, from sunken tatami mat seating to tables. But the biggest thrill for your eyes is the chance to see the chef at work from right behind the counter.
The only one of its kind
The full course of torafugu puffer fish is such a colorful array of dishes with depth to match that you will forget they all contain the same ingredient. The chef is constantly aware of his guests’ needs, and for the benefit of those from overseas especially, provides written menus with detailed descriptions of ingredients – a welcome touch that takes the intimidation out of a totally new experience.
An elaborate appetizer sets the stage for the course of traditional Japanese cuisine, followed by fugu served three ways. The first is sashimi in which fugu aged for half a day is sliced paper-thin with a specialty knife and carefully arranged like a flower. The fish glistens with freshness and as you peer through the translucent flesh, you can even see the design of the stunning Arita-yaki porcelain platter it is served on. Nevertheless, the chef purposely makes his slices slightly thicker than other restaurants to leave enough springy texture to chew on, releasing the umami and sweetness from within. Served with Kamogashira onions and chives, the sashimi is best enjoyed with a dip in ponzu, a soy sauce and citrus mixture with gentle acidity.
Next is salt-grilled fugu served with grilled chestnut and ginkgo nuts. Low-moisture fish like fugu tend to dry out on grilling, but the chef has found the perfect combination of sesame oil and soy sauce, which he carefully brushes on while grilling, resulting in succulent, plump flesh. Another extremely popular dish is the chef’s deep-fried fugu no karaage. Thick pieces of flesh are salted and rested before being dipped in seasoned batter and crisp-fried. The chef worked tirelessly to discover this recipe, and implores you to eat it at its best, when it’s still piping hot.
A hot pot dish allows you to enjoy various parts of the fish alongside an array of vegetables prepared with stunning knife cuts. The soup is started by slowly drawing out the umami from Hokkaido kombu, soaked in water for two to three hours, and then seasoned with light-colored soy sauce known for highlighting the innate flavors of ingredients. If you are lucky enough to visit between December and March, the chef will tantalize your taste buds with grilled soft roe from the fugu fish. Melting instantly in your mouth, you will be wowed by the creamy richness and touch of sweetness from this delicacy. Some guests request their soft roe to be served in the hot pot or with warming rice porridge.
While the specialty fugu course is available all year, courses of karei flounder or okoze stonefish are only served in May~June and July~August, respectively. Whenever you visit, however, you can be certain of being thoroughly entertained by the colors, aromas and flavors of each season.
Torafugu is the star of every meal at Yamadaya. The most prized variety of puffer fish, the torafugu served here is all fished in ocean water, raised on the bountiful natural feed found in the currents of the Bungo Channel. Every morning, fishermen leave Usuki Port seeking their catch in these waters separating the major Japanese islands of Kyushu and Shikoku and packaging the precious produce for air freight to Tokyo. Every time your teeth bite down on the firm, translucent flesh, more sweetness is released.
You can enjoy the torafugu specialty all year at Yamadaya, but if you want to pair it with another delicacy – shirako soft roe of the puffer fish – you should time your visit between December and March. May and June also offer karei flounder, while July and August mean okoze stonefish season. Many Yamadaya guests are fans of these two fish varieties, with connoisseurs savoring the chance to devour them in full courses.
The restaurant earned three stars for its exquisite cuisine and impeccable service, and the sake selection is no exception. Here you can find many limited-edition precious sake varieties not typically found in stores. One treasure encased in a wooden box is a junmai daiginjo sake from Niigata’s renowned Hakkaisan brewery, in which the rice has been polished to an astonishing 25% of the original grain. You can also find aged Kikuhime sake from Ishikawa and selections from Kyoto’s rising star Sawaya Matsumoto brewery. It’s an amazing collection that also includes the incredibly rare Kokuryu, brewed with crystal clear waters from the Hakusan mountains in Fukui Prefecture. If you are looking for a taste of Oita to enjoy with your fugu cuisine, you will not be disappointed with a sake called Ichinoide, made by the sake masters of Kuge Honten found right near Yamadaya’s original restaurant site.
- The price includes our booking fee of ￥8,000
- The price includes our booking fee of ￥8,000