Japan equals France for top three-starred Michelin restaurants
France's gastronomic prowess has met its match for the first time after Japan equalled its total of top three-starred restaurants in this year's Michelin gourmet guide.
The Japanese capital bolstered its position as the world capital of cuisine by posting 14 three-starred establishments, up from 11 last year, stretching its lead over Paris, which has just 10.
Michelin judged 266 eateries in Tokyo and the surrounding cities of Yokohama and Kamakura to be worthy of stellar treatment, with 54 eateries receiving two stars and a further 198 awarded a lone star.
French national pride in its cuisine had been riding high since UNESCO last week declared its "festive gastronomic meal" a world heritage treasure.
Despite the apparent knock to Gallic hubris, Jean-Luc Naret, director of the Michelin Guides, insisted Japan's rise was no cause for shame as France was still way ahead per eatery.
"You have to put things in perspective," he said at the Tokyo launch.
"France has 200,000 restaurants," he said, compared with more than 500,000 in Japan, according to local statistics. Tokyo alone boasts 160,000 restaurants, more than ten times the number found in Paris.
"There are a lot of good restaurants and a lot of bad ones," Mr Naret said.
"You don't always eat well in Tokyo, but there is a high proportion of very good restaurants." Michelin employs seven inspectors in Japan who visit 1,800 addresses, compared to 15 inspectors in France who visit more than 8,000 eateries.
Three stars mean exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey; two stars are for excellent cooking, worth a detour; one star denotes a very good restaurant.
The Japanese restaurants joining the coveted top bracket include Araki, a new sushi restaurant that went straight in on three stars.
Hamadaya, a traditional Japanese restaurant and 7chome Kyoboshi [corr], which specialises in tempura, were promoted from two, along with Usukifugu Yamadaya, known for fugu, a fish that is poisonous if wrongly prepared.
Only two restaurants in the top 14 now serve French fare: Quintessence and Joel Robuchon, whose eponymous celebrity owner remains the Michelin's highest-scoring chef in Tokyo, with a total of seven stars including two each for his restaurants, La Table and L'Atelier.