Japan draws level with France on three-star restaurants

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Japan has for the first time drawn level with France in terms of the number of three-Michelin-starred restaurants it can boast, according to the latest Tokyo guide released Wednesday.

The 2011 version of the French foodie bible saw 14 eateries in Tokyo get top marks from Michelin, giving Japan a total of 26 of the coveted stars nationwide and putting it neck-and-neck with Michelin's home turf.

Tokyo itself managed to keep its status as the world capital of cuisine, according to Michelin, with its 14 three-starred establishments, up from 11 last year, building its lead over Paris, which has just 10.

"With 14 three-star restaurants, Tokyo has the most three-star restaurants in the world," said Jean-Luc Naret, director of the Michelin Guides, at a launch presentation in the port of Yokohama, just south of Tokyo.

But he insisted that the Japanese capital had the advantage of pure size in the battle with Paris for top-notch places to dine.

Tokyo alone boasts 160,000 restaurants, compared with 15,000 in Paris and 200,000 in the whole of France.

The 2011 guide judged 266 eateries in Tokyo and the surrounding cities of Yokohama and Kamakura to be worthy of its star rating, with 54 eateries being rated with two stars and a further 198 getting the single stellar treatment.

For the first time the guide, which is available in both English and Japanese, also points diners towards restaurants offering meals at under 5,000 yen (60 dollars).

Naret dismissed as "absolutely ridiculous" critics who accuse Michelin of uncritically handing out stars in Japan in order to increase its tyre sales.

"The Michelin Guide doesn't sell tyres," he told reporters. "We don't sell more guides or tyres by giving out stars," he added.

Four restaurants serving Japanese cuisine made their first appearance in the top category: "Araki", a new entry; "Hamadaya", which regained the third star it lost last year; "7 chome Kyoboshi" and "Usukifugu Yamadaya", which both graduated from the two to three star category.

Among the losers this year were French eatery "L'Osier" whose chef Bruno Menard had held three stars ever since the Tokyo guide first appeared in 2008.

Only two restaurants in the top 14 now serve French food: "Quintessence", run by Shuzo Kishida, formerly of "L'Astrance" in Paris, and "Joel Robuchon", the flagship restaurant of its eponymous celebrity chef.

Robuchon remains the Michelin's most recognised chef in Tokyo, with a total of seven stars including two each for his "La Table" and "L'Atelier" venues.

© 2010 AFP

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