top of page

MICHELIN Star Fine Dining in Tokyo

Updated: Sep 2, 2023

Must one spend a fortune to have a breathtaking culinary experience?

In search of the answer when I booked my trip to Japan, I knew I wanted to experience world-class meals, and thanks to my diligence, I was able to secure reservations at not one but two MICHELIN-starred restaurants in Tokyo.

I also researched some of the highest-rated, most affordable, off-the-beaten-path neighborhood gems as well.

My hypothesis was that there is no need to spend inordinate amounts of money when dining out in Japan.

However, I did wish to live extravagantly on occasion; therefore, here are my reviews of both restaurants with a MICHELIN star I visited - nôl in Chou and Bird Land in Ginza.

nôl (One MICHELIN Star)

Located inside the DDD Hotel in the Chuo neighborhood of Tokyo (near the Asakusabashi Station on the JR line), nôl describes itself on its website as a "suitable kitchen space" working with "carefully produced seasonal ingredients cooked to bring out the original taste," and "served in a beautiful and comfortable setting, the right amount at the right price."

Booking tables in Japan is not as easy as in the United States, and service fees of 10% of the entire meal charge apply. I used a service called TableCheck, which seems to be the most used platform by higher-end restaurants in Japan; here is the link if you are interested.

MICHELIN gave rave reviews about the inventiveness of the food at nôl, and you can find that write-up here.

When my brother arrived, we learned that nôl is attempting to earn a coveted MICHELIN Green Star, an annual distinction which highlights restaurants at the forefront of the industry when it comes to their sustainable practices.

nôl seats twelve guests in an intimate, minimalist space that reminds me of Scandinavia. Colors are grey and white, and the restaurant is almost silent (in Japan, it is considered very bad form to be loud in any establishment except maybe a karaoke bar).

The restaurant's focus on sustainability is evident from its very first course, called "Trash Soup."

A sharply-dressed Japanese waiter spoke perfect English placed a glass container and a raggedy-burlap note next to us.

I looked at my brother - what was going on?

In all seriousness, the waiter stated: "This is our Trash Soup. It is made from the remnants of the vegetables we use in dishes from our kitchen. Even the paper you see here is made from our vegetable waste. Please enjoy."

In a tiny tea cup containing the "Trash Soup," I tasted traces of leeks and lotus flowers amongst other refined vegetables, reminding me of a very delicate French consommé.

This opening salvo was just a start of the ten courses on our menu for the evening.

Every single dish at nol was delivered in a distinctly tasteful Japanese way.

Every aspect is understated in its excellence, which makes it even that more impactful.

Still stunned by the "Trash Soup," the next course was a sweet Japanese shrimp (prepared in ceviche fashion) with a clam foam and edible flowers.

I absolutely loved the sweet shrimp, which is a delicacy in Japan, which paired perfectly with the foam underneath.

Dish three was charcoal-grilled bamboo shoots and more edible flowers.

You could really taste the charcoal in the bamboo, a flavor provided by the tiny Japanese-style grill used by the chefs in nôl's open kitchen.

Furthermore, the exquisite cutlery added to the exotic aspects of the dish.

Up next was one of my favorites: charcoal-grilled, sliced squid over a squid ink pasta.

A savory, sour cream sauce the squid and pasta to perfection.

As I grabbed my chopsticks and devoured every last morsel, I commented that I could eat an entire large-sized bowl of this tasty dish.

After the squid, we were served steamed sturgeon with caviar along with kohlrabi and egg in a beef and fish consommé broth.

Next, we dined on a delicious, artisanal, trio of artichokes dish.

The trio was artichoke par boiled then roasted sitting in a puree of artichoke and paired with fried artichoke chips. The artichoke tasted like butter and melted in your mouth, and the chips added a lovely crunch in every bite.

All of these lovely ingredients were sitting on top of a red wine sauce that you might expect with filet mignon at a high-end steakhouse.

We then we told to prepare for two meat courses: one chicken and one venison.

The chicken was locally-sourced and came with a sauce made of chicken stock and sour cream.

The chicken skin had a perfect crunch to it and was paired with Japanese green vegetables. I could have eaten about ten times the amount that was served.

The venison was my favorite dish of the entire meal.

The chef told us that the venison was wild from Hokkaido and was killed by a hunter there. Again, the meat was served with a red wine reduction and peppercorns paired with fried spring sprouts done in tempura style.

Every single bite was a moment of pure sensory exhilaration.

In preparation for the two dessert courses, we were then moved to the counter seating so we could get a great view of the kitchen and the three chefs responsible for the evening's degustation.

Originally, I had read about the famous counter seats, but I never thought that I would be able to sit in them. Now here I was, alone in the restaurant with only the staff and my brother, sitting in the coveted spot.

Dessert number one was a special orange dish with orange sorbet and a panna cotta style custard underneath.

Dessert number two was an egg custard with tea and cacao nibs, cleverly ensconced in a silver egg.

After dinner, we were given an exclusive private tour of the kitchen. The chefs showed us how they re-use ingredients, source their spices and also how they compost all their refuse.

In the end, my brother and I were two of only six guests who had the ultimate privilege of dining there that evening, and we were blown away that the restaurant only has one seating per night.

I have been to the world-famous The French Laundry restaurant in Napa Valley - which boasts three MICHELIN stars - and this meal was far superior. The service was impeccable and the atmosphere subtly divine.

I hope nôl gets its coveted MICHELIN Green Star, and I feel it deserves two MICHELIN stars instead of one.

Bird Land (One MICHELIN Star)

Feeling giddy after the once-in-a-lifetime experience at nôl, I was bound to be disappointed by anything less than spectacular.

Located in Ginza, which is Tokyo's 5th Avenue equivalent, Bird Land - another one MICHELIN star restaurant - had a lot to live up to.

Here is what MICHELIN has to say about Birdland:

I was able to make a reservation on OpenTable approximately one month in advance.

Needless to say, I was extremely excited to try this high-end yakitori restaurant that focuses primarily on chicken.

Unfortunately, my expectations were not met. In fact, this is the worst MICHELIN star restaurant in which I have dined.

My negative experience began when we tried to find the restaurant, which is located in the basement of a building near the Ginza subway station.

After ten minutes of fruitless searching, I called the restaurant four times, and the phone was never answered.

Finally, someone picked up and was able to guide us inside; however, I was not the happiest camper upon arrival.

The restaurant is relatively small, with 20 counter seats in a three-sided square facing the open kitchen where the chefs are preparing the food. There are also two tables that seat 4-6 patrons. Otherwise, that is it.

While Bird Land offers an a la carte menu, my brother decided to do the Special Tasting Menu and I did the regular tasting menu, which comes with eight different kinds of yakitori as well as other dishes.

The food was a few hits and mostly misses for me.

First off, the chicken breast with wasabi yakotori (pictured on the right) was raw when I bit into it.


As if I wasn't sick enough to my stomach, then came out a litany of dishes like Chicken hearts, Chicken livers, Chicken butts and Chicken necks.

I consider myself to have an adventurous palate, and maybe I am just a silly American when it comes to chicken, but I absolutely can not be eating bone and gristle in every dish, and that is exactly what happened.

Thankfully, the next round of dishes were vegetarian, and I enjoyed these much more.

The tofu looked and tasted like a fine burrata cheese and was drizzled with olive oil and pepper with a lone tomato to finish the tomato mozzarella motif. It was creamy, cold and DELICIOUS.

The shiitake mushroom was excellent, and I am usually not a big mushroom fan.

We then had a skewer of gingko berries. Cooked to perfection, they had the consistency and taste of a firm lima bean. I watched the chef prepare this right in front of me, and add a delicious drizzle and salts as a finish.

However, I did not go to Bird Land for vegetables. I went for chicken yakitori, and that was the worst part of the meal for me.

Thankfully, the next three savory dishes hit the spot for me.

The chicken meatballs were outstanding, and basted on the grill with the special brown sauce that I could have drank by the gallon.

Dessert may have been the best part of the meal for me - a cream caramel - which reminded me of flan.

Its smoky caramel flavor, paired with a tasty Japanese black tea at least left me with a nice taste in my mouth.

It is unfortunate to have a less than stellar experience at a restaurant, but it does happen on occasion.

If you desire a fancy meal while in Japan, my advice would be to stick to other MICHELIN star options, as there are a plethora in Tokyo.

As I left Bird Land, I realized that some of my more affordable Tokyo dining experiences were far superior.

Specifically, the mapo tofu and wonton soup at Zijin in Harijuku, the ramen at Ramen Nagi in the Golden Gai, and the sushi at Sushiyishi in Ginza meant that you don't need to spend tons of money to have a great meal.

For more of my Travel articles, including my adventures in Japan, click here to visit the special section on the Social Musings by Austin website.

249 views0 comments

Bình luận

bottom of page