Obama opens Japanese trip with sushi

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Tokyo - President Barack Obama has had a lesson in the art of sushi making at a famous Tokyo restaurant.

The restaurant is famous for its hard-to-come-by reservations.

But Obama and his dining partner, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe didn't appear to have trouble scoring seats at Sukiyabashi Jiro. The 10-seat restaurant is run by 87-year-old Jiro Ono, who was featured in the 2011 documentary Jiro Dreams Of Sushi.

Obama and Abe greeted each other outside the underground restaurant before heading in for the private dinner that typically costs about $300 (about R3 000).

Joining Obama and Abe at dinner were US Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy and White House National Security Adviser Susan Rice. - Sapa-AP

AFP reports that the restaurant has three coveted Michelin stars but only a handful of seats, and is ruled with an iron rod by its redoubtable 88-year-old owner, Jiro Ono.

Jiro’s exacting standards and tireless work ethic have made him legendary among global foodies.

The commander-in-chief of one of the planet's most fearsome armed forces, who sits at the helm of a multi-trillion dollar economy, had no menu to choose from - even if he could read it - because Jiro selects the dishes he serves and will not take orders from his customers.

Sukiyabashi Jiro has only 24 seats, sits in a slightly scruffy basement of an ageing commercial building, and is connected to a Tokyo subway station.

But that has not been enough to turn off even the most discerning diners, who must book months in advance to secure a seat.

The establishment is the proud bearer of three Michelin stars, awarded for the first time when the Tokyo edition of the gourmet guide was launched in 2007, and renewed every year since.

“The cool and refreshing quality of the restaurant as a whole, the concern for the customer, the perfectionism in selecting the furnishings - the spirit shown here has much in common with the world of the tea ceremony,” the Michelin guide's launch edition said.

“The 'left-handed master craftsman', Jiro Ono, creates the finest sushi with swift, fluid movements,” the guide gushed in 2012.

Ono's rigid discipline and unending pursuit of perfection were the subject of the 2011 US documentary, Jiro Dreams Of Sushi.

The film showed how Jiro and his chefs buy their fish every morning at the storied Tsukiji market in Tokyo from a tight coterie of trusted dealers who know never to supply him with anything but the best.

The restaurant offers set courses only, consisting of 20 pieces of sushi, with prices starting at 30 000 yen per person.

“The 20 or so pieces may not come cheap but just consider the exquisite tastes,” said the 2012 Michelin guide.

Along with world-renowned chefs like Joel Robuchon, Sukiyabashi Jiro also counts Hollywood A-listers including Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway among clients. - Sapa-AFP

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