In a city with more Michelin stars than any other, choosing a Tokyo restaurant is no trivial matter. These restaurants though, are not only among the finest in the city, they are each commended for championing sustainability in their own way.
Yoshihiro Narisawa was among the first recipients of a Sustainable Restaurant Award, thanks to his devotion to preserving and transmitting the Satoyama culture. Satoyama is where people and nature coexist, and harmony with nature is key - a theme much evident in Narisawa's delightfully innovative creations. Dishes like "Soil Soup," "Bread of the Forest," and "Satoyama Scenery" recreate the rich nature of Japan's mountains and forests, and they must be seen to be believed. The wonderful plating and minimalist interior are enthralling, but this "Innovative Satoyama Cuisine" is far from superficial. This is NARISAWA's cuisine, implementing techniques that highlight various cultures - and you can be sure the Michelin stars are well deserved.
And Narisawa's commitment to sustainability goes beyond mere philosophy and presentation. Through his "Onigiri Project" he works with sake breweries across Japan to make rice balls from local ingredients for healthcare workers."Keep in Touch with Farmers" is a project to connect consumers with the producers who Narisawa depends on. And every year, his team visits depopulated mountain villages for tree planting, to preserve the wilderness ecosystem they are part of.
L'Effervescence needs almost no introduction, being in the Michelin Guide Tokyo since 2012, and one of the first three-star restaurants awarded their Green Star for sustainable gastronomy. Chef Shinobu Namae is a visionary, and the taste, presentation, even explanations of his conceptual cuisine are all superb.
The whimsical, poetic menu is bound to delight - even more so the perennial masterpieces like "Artisanal Vegetables," a delectable homage to his growers who Chef Namae respects so much. His esteem for nature and those involved in the story of each dish are inseparable from the divine creations that marry the finest flavors from land and sea. The tranquil, even shadowy ambiance helps transport you far from the bustling world of the mundane, to what L'Effervescence quite rightly calls their "hermitage in the city."
While the cuisine is French, all ingredients are grown in Japan as part of a holistic approach to sustainability that goes far beyond "local production for local consumption." Chef Namae values the connections between people, the well-being of staff, and their relationship with society and the local community. His broad efforts range from the social, like speaking at Slow Food conventions and actively supporting earnest young farmers, to the practical, like utilizing "Better Meat" and cooking with fire fueled by wood thinnings from Hinohara Village in west Tokyo.
At Sazenka, the motto "Japanese Spirit with Chinese Talent" describes a wondrous marriage of the cultures - Chinese dishes reimagined with Japanese sensibilities. A subtly delightful gastronomy that's rooted in the tea cultures of the two peoples. Signature dishes include "Young Pigeon Cooked Two Ways," where the breast meat is grilled over Japanese charcoal and the legs are cooked in a traditional Chinese method.
From classic dishes like qing tang noodle soup to adventurous offerings starring jellyfish and sudachi, Chef Kawada's creations are not only sublime, they are also part of a vision for a sustainable society. Sazenka is part of Chefs for the Blue, an organization including some of Tokyo's top chefs, and taking a range of actions on their mission of "keeping the oceans rich for 100 years to come." For example, to combat overfishing Sazenka purposefully selects fish that others would overlook. And on the land, they make excellent use of Japan's over-abundant wild game - something rarely seen in Tokyo's top restaurants.