November 18, 2008 / 9:39 AM / 9 years ago

Tokyo tops star count again in Michelin food guide

TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - Tokyo is once again the world’s starriest city, according to the Michelin restaurant guide, which predicts that even an economic recession won’t dim the allure of good, if pricey, food.

<p>Japan's Mt Fuji, covered with snow, is seen through Shinjuku skyscrapers in Tokyo January 8, 2006. REUTERS/Kimimasa Mayama</p>

A year after unveiling its first-ever Asian edition in the Japanese capital, Michelin awarded more stars to Tokyo than any other city, with nine restaurants given the coveted three-star rating, one more than last year.

In the new 2009 edition, 36 establishments received two stars, while 128 restaurants were awarded one. The 2008 edition also awarded Tokyo more stars than any other city.

“Tokyo’s food scene is dynamic, diverse, rich and full of excitement,” Jean-Luc Naret, director of the Michelin guides, told a news conference.

“It places importance on tradition and uses world-class cooking techniques to bring the best out of fine ingredients.”

Ishikawa, a 16-seat Japanese restaurant in the geisha district of Kagurazaka, joined the group of three-star establishments this year, a list that included six serving Japanese cuisine and three serving French.

Chef Hideki Ishikawa appeared humbled by the recognition.

“I am happy, but I‘m not sure what to say. It hasn’t sunk in yet,” he told reporters at a reception for the city’s three-star chefs.

“I just said ‘Yes, thank you’,” he said of his reaction after receiving the call from Michelin.

Being awarded a star in a city with 160,000 restaurants can mean massive business and publicity for the chef, although several on the list last year are reported to have shut down.

Naret said more restaurants could become vulnerable to Japan’s economic recession, with banks in New York cited as cancelling private functions. Small restaurants may need to review prices.

But diners would still be expected to pick up the guide, which dates back to 1900 and was first aimed at chauffeurs in the early days of motoring.

“Because of the recession, people are going to be more careful about choosing where to eat,” he said.

Naret said he was aware of last year’s criticism from Japanese customers, who complained that the review process was opaque and leaned toward European tastes.

While two of last year’s five undercover inspectors were Japanese, this year’s inspection team consisted of five Japanese and one French national.

This year’s guide also added marks to restaurants that offered a good selection of sake rice wine and those that required diners to take off their shoes, common in traditional eateries.

“It could be useful for men, just to make sure their socks don’t have holes, and for ladies who might have a dress on that day,” Naret told Reuters.

“It’s not just for foreigners, but for anyone who uses our Tokyo guide.”

Editing by Miral Fahmy and Jerry Norton

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