American Express Icon Award – Asia 2019

A true icon of Japanese cuisine

Seiji Yamamoto

Nihonryori RyuGin, Tokyo 

A true icon of Japanese cuisine

Serving as one of Japan’s gastronomic luminaries for more than a decade and a half, Seiji Yamamoto is the visionary leader behind Tokyo’s kaiseki temple, Nihonryori RyuGin. And rethinking ancestral kaiseki cuisine – Japan’s highest form of culinary art hinged on a series of small, meticulously-crafted dishes that balance colour, texture, flavour, temperature, and taste – with a more progressive outlook is precisely the approach that has earned RyuGin a top 10 spot in every edition of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants. 

Born in Kagawa prefecture on Shikoku Island, southwest of Tokyo, Yamamoto trained for more than a decade at the lauded Aoyagi restaurant. Keen to share his love for the beauty of nature and the purity of flavour found in peak seasonal ingredients, the chef debuted Nihonryori RyuGin in Tokyo’s Roppongi district in 2003. When Michelin launched in Japan five years later, RyuGin earned two stars for Yamamoto’s highly-refined, minimalist plates, such as sukiyaki-inspired, nearly raw olive-fed wagyu crowned with an egg oozing vibrant orange yolk; and ayu (sweetfish) grilled whole over bamboo wood. 

The beauty in Japanese cuisine lies in a chef’s ability to coax out the potential of a singular ingredient, celebrating its inherent taste through a calculated recipe that blends subtle, enhancing flavours and specific cooking methods, without weighing the star product down. That’s precisely the style Yamamoto has mastered, and one that earned RyuGin the No.2 spot in the inaugural Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2013, along with a third Michelin star in 2012. 

With worldwide diners vying for one of RyuGin’s 24 seats for close to a decade, in 2012 Yamamoto expanded to Hong Kong with Tenku RyuGin, presenting fans with another option to book. Two years later, a third outlet, Shoun RyuGin, followed in Taipei. Under Yamamoto’s keen eye, each restaurant has gone on to claim turf on the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list. 

Counting three globally acclaimed restaurants, in August 2018 Yamamoto turned his attention back to Tokyo, moving his flagship to a vastly more spacious new home in Tokyo’s Hibiya Midtown luxury development, expanding seating to 40, with a dining room three times the size. 

Telling the story of Japan at a very specific point in time through 12 courses that convey the fleeting nature of seasonal ingredients has solidified RyuGin as one of the world’s most respected gastronomic destinations, and Yamamoto as a true shokunin of his craft. 

Watch the video:

Nihonryori RyuGin
7F Tokyo Midtown Hibiya
1-1-2 Yurakucho
+81 (0)3-6630-0007

Now read the interview with Yamamoto on winning the inaugural American Express Icon Award, which will be presented to him at the Asia's 50 Best Restaurants 2019 awards ceremony in Macao on March 26.

  • "Halloween"
  • By Seiji Yamamoto

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