Japan’s Flavourful City: A Look at Osaka’s Culinary Scene

No trip to Japan would be complete without visiting a few sushi bars to sample this iconic national dish. But Osaka is known for much more than sushi.

Yakiniku and Horumon are grilled meat barbecue dishes popular among street food vendors, but also served in the city’s more upscale restaurants. Okonomiyaki — which translates to “how you want it” — is a homey, savory pancake served with a choice of toppings ranging from ginger to seaweed to noodles. Kushikatsu and Yakitori are favorite local fast foods that consist of long skewers of seasoned meats and vegetables.

It’s this range of dishes that has helped Osaka earn a reputation as the “kitchen of the world.” But it’s the city’s refined dining scene that is taking center stage. Osaka boasts more than 120 Michelin-starred restaurants, many led by chefs using French techniques to showcase the finest local seafood and iconic Kobe beef. Much of the dining is Kappou-style, served at communal counters, often looking into an open kitchen where diners can interact with chefs. But counter-style dining doesn’t mean giving up a sophisticated culinary experience. Here are some restaurants that just might change the way you think about Japanese cuisine.

At the Michelin three-star Koryu, you will want to plan ahead to reserve one of the restaurant’s 12 highly coveted seats. Chef Shintaro Matsuo doesn’t have a set menu. Instead, he gives free reign to his creativity via dishes like Naniwa, meaning garden of fish and different types of fresh fish from all over Japan. Matsuo prepares everything using natural spring water sourced from Minoh, a nearby natural waterfall, and carefully crafts his stocks with preferred ingredients, like kelp from Hokkaido Dounan and bonito from Makurazaki. The interior, as with most restaurants in Osaka, is understated to allow the exquisitely presented dishes to take center stage.

Koryu; photo courtesy of Koryu

Japan is a country that prizes its cultural values and family traditions. Chef Tetsuya Fujiwara of Fujiya 1935 draws his culinary inspiration from his great-grandfather, who opened one of Osaka’s most popular and progressive restaurants in 1935. The contemporary restaurant has earned three Michelin stars for dishes that marry Japanese and European influences. Think dishes like the eight-week aged Tajima beef wild boar dry-cured ham, wasabi pasta and goat milk cream puffs. Fujiya 1935 is a serene space with a formal dining room, where the chefs personally deliver the meals to each table to acknowledge diners. Again, you’ll want to make reservations several weeks in advance as seating is limited.

Despite the frantic pace of daily life, Japanese traditionally have a deep connection to the earth and to the world around them as a way to stay rooted in their beliefs. The white tablecloth Hajime is a restaurant where this Japanese philosophy and cuisine meet. French-trained Chef Hajime Yoneda carefully crafts dishes, like his signature ‘chikyu’ (planet earth), featuring more than 100 different vegetables, grains and herbs, artfully arranged around a shellfish foam to represent the land and sea.

Hajime’s Planet Earth; photo courtesy of Hajime

With the Kobe region and its celebrated Wagyu cows located just 20 minutes away from Osaka, the Michelin-starred Harijyu steakhouse is a must. Despite its location on a busy street, the nearly 100-year-old restaurant will transport you to an oasis-like setting, complete with a Japanese garden and koi pond in addition to traditional seating on mats at low dining tables. Do not miss its signature dish of melt-in-your-mouth Japanese Wagyu beef with Sukiyaki sauce.

Matsusaka beef, a rival to Wagyu, is another delicacy to sample in Osaka. Matsusaka cows are said to enjoy beer and massages to stimulate their appetite and produce a better quality meat. Matsusaka Yakiniku M is a yakiniku restaurant where guests grill their own meats on tabletop grills. The most popular menu item is the DX Platter, six different cuts of Matsusaka beef served with grilled vegetables. The restaurant features small private dining rooms with modern furnishings and moody lighting.

You can’t miss the French influence among some of Osaka’s most refined tables. Pierre, the Michelin-starred restaurant at InterContinental Osaka, offers contemporary French cuisine informed by Japanese techniques from its perch on the hotel’s 20th floor. The open kitchen allows patrons to witness the creation of signature dishes, like the olive-fed beef, whose ingredients rotate on a seasonal basis. The restaurant also boasts an extensive wine list with more than 400 types of wine, including many rare bottles.

Pierre; photo courtesy of InterContinental Osaka

 

Pierre’s Olive Beef; photo courtesy of InterContinental Osaka

For sophistication on the plate, Osaka has few rivals in Japan or elsewhere around the world.

To experience Osaka at its finest, consider booking Club InterContinental at InterContinental Osaka for a new level of sophistication. Enjoy complimentary evening cocktails and canapes at the exclusive Club InterContinental lounge as well as a dedicated Club InterContinental team with personalized service .

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