Tokyo - Barack Obama may have enthused publicly about the sushi he was served at an exclusive Michelin-starred restaurant, but he stopped eating half way through the meal, reports said Thursday.
Pictures showed the US president being served sake by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the counter of the tiny Tokyo eatery, as part of a meal billed as a chance for bonding, at which neither wore a tie.
But a report Thursday said instead of making small talk and savouring Japanese delicacies at Sukiyabashi Jiro - dubbed the world's best sushi restaurant and the subject of the 2011 documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” - Obama jumped straight into discussions about trade.
The owner of a yakitori (grilled chicken) restaurant that sits in the same basement as the exclusive diner told Tokyo Broadcasting System that Obama had put his chopsticks down at the halfway point.
The man said a sushi chef from the restaurant told him the leaders' chat was quite formal, the broadcaster said.
Unlike Obama, Abe munched the whole way through the offerings from 88-year-old legend Jiro Ono, who serves around 20 pieces of sushi one by one at the customer's pace, it said.
Both men emerged from the restaurant to declare the meal had been a success, with Obama telling a crowd of journalists and well-wishers: “That's some good sushi right there” and Abe saying they had discussed “a wide range of topics in a relaxed atmosphere”.
Chief government spokesman Yoshihide Suga refused Thursday to be drawn on exactly how much the US president had eaten, saying only:
“It's true that he ate a good amount”.
“I can tell from his expression he was very much satisfied,” he added. The dinner “played a great role in building trust between the leaders as they had talks in a relaxed atmosphere.”
Trade is one of the thornier issues at play in the three-day visit, with the two leaders under pressure to make progress on auto and agricultural market access issues blocking agreement on the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership.