All the waiters convene in a neat line on both sides of the banquet before pausing, eyes fixed on the maître d’hôtel. Upon his refined smile and nod, the first course is served. It’s modest. A porcelain spoon with a dollop of white filling the chasm. In the mouth, its fragile skin bursts into flavour. Damn if this tiny globule isn't the most brilliant rendition of a Caprese salad. It’s almost magical how the taste of fresh tomato, mozzarella, basil and olive oil are all evident in smooth liquid.
It’s succeeded by a cast of surprising profiles, including a Black Pasta Ravioli with lobster and ginger curry and coffee foam that pleasantly teases the tongue. But maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, this is the annual Stellar Dining Series. Pushing the frontier of gastronomy, it’s where The Ritz-Carlton allies its Michelin-starred chefs for an exclusive experience that’s as much culinary as it is sensory.
In the second stopover in Kyoto, chef Erlantz Gorostiza from Abama’s MB brings his two-Michelin star expertise to chef Katsuhito Inoue’s La Locanda. For Spanish influences within the setting of an Italian restaurant, coupled with Japanese ingredients and background, the alternating dishes of the two chefs that night were presented seamlessly.
“When you work with another chef like Inoue, you’re both learning something,” says Gorostiza. The rapport is evident, from the smoky Truffle Gelatin and Foie Gras to the quietly sublime Wild Mushroom Parmigiano-Reggiano Risotto.
Even solo, the Marriott-Michelin voyage doesn’t disappoint. At Tempura Mizuki, chef Kenji Fujimoto shows how he earned the hotel’s traditional tempura establishment its first Michelin star. At the counter-style table, Kobe beef cubes wrapped in shiso leaf sit stacked between a bamboo basket of ginkgo nut skewers and a silver bowl of truffle.
Prawn and squid sashimi are plated together on the same space amid slices of fig and autumn leaves. All ingredients form an appetising portrait before they are individually served. The enveloping fried batter of each ingredient is prepared so evenly and lightly that it almost appears as its skin instead of a separate coating. You see this in the ideal medium rare colour of the Kobe beef inside its crisp shell. All retaining their natural flavour, there’s no better garnish than the salts—Okinawa, seaweed, black pepper, and yes, lemon juice—recommended accordingly.
The Japanese degustation is balanced with the likes of Stone Fish salad with Ponzu, and one that will forever be beautifully seared in my memory; a petite heap of sea urchin drizzled with a sauce of sunflower oil and wabisuke egg (from a farm in Uji exclusive to the restaurant, no less).
There’s almost a sense of wistfulness when the meal concludes, possibly from knowing that tempura will never taste the same again.
In what was once the capital of Land of the Rising Sun, The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto makes the perfect backdrop for the affair. Inside, rooms open to the serene Kamo river for a glimpse of local life, and open spaces are adorned with custom art pieces echoing the unique charm of Japan (spot Kentaro Yokouchi’s satin gold, colour-spilled wax painting that hides a geisha and daimyō in plain sight). Step outside and it feels like the centre of culturally rich districts with Fushimi Inari and Heian Shrines in the vicinity.
What’s most fascinating is that the entire hotel is built around a preserved Japanese house. The century-old Ebisugawa-tei which dates back to the Meiji era is now restored and repurposed as the private dining room of La Locanda. We’ve come full circle. As the rendezvous of culture, heritage and cuisine reaches its finale, we already await its next stellar eclipse.