A waitress sets up tableware at the Ryugin restaurant in Tokyo. AFP
Two Japanese restaurants have shot to the top of the La Liste ranking of best places to eat in the world, with a third one getting the second highest mark from the authoritative "guide of guides".
Yosuke Suga's tiny Tokyo restaurant Sugalabo, which has only 20 tables, does not have a Michelin star but shares the top spot on the French-based list alongside the reigning leaders, Guy Savoy in Paris and New York's Le Bernardin under Eric Ripert.
The famously innovative Ryugin restaurant in the Japanese capital run by Chef Seiji Yamamoto jumped 30 places to also reach the shared number one spot.
A delighted Yamamoto, known as the "king of kaiseki" — the traditional multi-course Japanese meal — said that he now knows what the mysterious invitation he received to come to Paris next month was for.
"I'm honoured. When I opened my own restaurant I was 33 and was told I was young and green.
"It's been 16 years since then and I now feel the responsibility as a chef carrying on (the tradition) of Japanese cuisine."
Kyoto's Kitcho Arashiyama was one of seven restaurants including Alain Ducasse's Monaco base that split second place.
The French celebrity chef's Paris table at the Plaza Athenee hotel was ranked fourth by the classification, which aggregates reviews from guides, newspapers and websites including TripAdvisor.
But it is the rapid rise of Suga, 43, once a personal assistant to the legendary late French superchef Joel Robuchon, that will make most headlines.
Last year Sugalabo did not even make La Liste's top 1,000.
His "secret" introduction-only dining room is hidden away behind a coffee house in the Azabudai neighbourhood, and closes for a few days every month so Suga can go off around Japan looking for new ideas and ingredients.
Although he comes from a family of chefs schooled in the French tradition, the produce Suga uses is almost entirely Japanese.
The playful Yamamoto, who invented edible inks to decorate his plates, got the maximum three Michelin stars four years ago.
He once served up what he called a "Chateau Ryugin 1970 soup" of potatoes, seashells and beetroot.
Although he also trained in France, he insisted that "before I send a plate to a client I always ask myself, 'Is this Japanese food?' If the answer is no, I won't serve it."
Japan, China lead pack
Japan and China have more of the planet's best Restaurants than anywhere else according to the ranking, which was set up four years ago as a "more scientific" rival to the British-based 50 Best list.
Japan leads the country table with 130 restaurants in the top 1,000 but Chinese cuisine is closing the gap with 126, up three on last year if you include restaurants in Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan.
France — the historic home of haute cuisine — comes in third with 116 and the United States just behind with 113.
The Mirazur restaurant at Menton on the French Riviera, which topped the 50 Best list, is joint fourth on the ranking.
Its Argentinian chef Mauro Colagreco became the first foreign chef in France ever to win three Michelin stars earlier this year.
British celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay came joint fifth for his London base.
Most popular food
La Liste's co-founder Jorg Zipprick said China's rise is partly because of the large number of restaurants there and the boom in local gastronomic guides.
But Italian food is still the most popular on the planet after Japanese cooking, he said, judging from what was being cooked in the 20,000 establishments on La Liste's database.
Zipprick said that environmental consciousness such as "local producers, sustainable fish, organic ingredients, plus the need to avoid food waste" were playing an increasingly important role in how people rate restaurants.
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