There are some restaurants around the world that are very tough to get into. It can take months to score a reservation. These restaurants are like hallowed temples of gastronomy where only the most persisting devotee may gain an entry. The reward is a pleasant memory constructed by food, ambience and service that will stay with you for life. By Manas Sen Gupta
If you are okay waiting and trying your luck for a memorable dining experience, here are some of the toughest restaurants in the world to get a reservation at.
Sukiyabashi Jiro, Tokyo, Japan
The renowned sushi restaurant is owned and operated by 95-year-old sushi master Jiro Ono, considered the world’s greatest living sushi craftsman. The restaurant is located in a basement connected to Ginza Metro station. It maintains an Edo-period feel, as a mark of respect to the era during which sushi originated. Jiro, his craft and his restaurant were subjects of the acclaimed 2011 documentary, Jiro Dreams Of Sushi.
Eating sushi at this restaurant is an unparalleled experience because of the omakase tasting menu, which consists of around 20 sushi pieces. The rice, which is served at body temperature, is of a special grade available only to Jiro. The seafood comes from the Tsukiji fish market, from where the freshest ones are bought daily. A layer of Nikiri, or soy sauce, is brushed on the sushi, which is to be consumed immediately after it is served. The omakase tasting menu costs JPY 44,000 plus tax (around USD 399.92 plus tax, or INR 29,449 plus taxes).
There are only 10 seats for customers but to even score one, you have to have some influential connections. This exclusivity is understandable when you have an endorsement from the likes of former US president Barack Obama, who, after dining here with then Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe in 2014, remarked, “That’s some good sushi right there.”
So how do you reserve a seat at Sukiyabashi Jiro? Don’t call and certainly don’t walk in. To get a seat, which is usually booked at least a month ahead, you have to first stay in a few of the most reputed and luxurious hotels in Tokyo. Reservation at Jiro is done via the concierge of these hotels, but you also need to be somewhat of a regular at the hotel to avail of this facility. Even then you may not get a seat on your chosen date. Due to the ongoing pandemic situation, Sukiyabashi Jiro is currently accepting reservations by phone only from locals but overseas patrons will have to take the concierge route.
Rao’s, New York City, USA
Rao’s (pronounced “RAY-ohs”) is considered the most exclusive Italian restaurant in the Big Apple. It is so tough to get a seat in the intimate interiors hidden behind the red door of the establishment that many just give up trying. And, of course, it doesn’t matter who you are; the restaurant can turn anyone away like it once famously did to Madonna. But if you get that rare golden chance of getting an invite, you will be tasting some of the most delicious Italian recipes of all time that are as secretive as they are innovative.
The restaurant was founded in 1896, is family-run and still running at its original location in East Harlem. It was just like any other normal restaurant till a 1977 review in The New York Times turned it into a magnet for Italian food lovers, which resulted in Rao’s introducing its extremely tough reservation system.
So, if you want to dine here at one of its 10 tables, you have to practically either be a decades-long regular or know someone who is a regular. The “regulars” include the likes of some of the most famous politicians, business personalities, sports legends and celebrities such as Billy Crystal, Nicholas Pileggi and Rob Reiner. Regulars have “table rights” based on which they can invite their guests to the restaurant. And even then, it could take a year to fix a date.
Now about what awaits inside the restaurant. All of the dishes served here are family recipes brought from Italy and introduced by the grandmother, uncle and aunt of the co-owner Frank Pellegrino Jr., who currently runs the business. Among the famous dishes are family-style lemon chicken and seafood salad. Its meatballs, which are the size of your fist, are legendary; even Jimmy Fallon tried making them at Rao’s. There is also a jarred sauce that Rao’s sells in stores. Its recipe was created by Frank’s great-grandmother and passed on from generation to generation. The restaurant is conscious of the change in tastes of society and thus the recipes have evolved with time.
For those who still want to get a taste of its dishes but are unable to book a seat in their New York temple, Rao’s has outlets in Las Vegas and Hollywood, both of which are normally accessible.
Noma, Copenhagen, Denmark
One of the toughest restaurants in Denmark to get a reservation in, Noma offers two types of booking systems for its two distinct dining experiences. If you opt for the private dining room, which can seat up to 20, you can attempt a reservation via email. For the normal dining room, where anywhere from two to eight people can be seated, bookings have to be made online via Tock. Seats can be booked by date, time and number of persons. Due to pandemic-related guidelines, the restaurant has also carved a dining space in its lounge.
At the time of writing nearly every type of seating for any time slot on almost any date has been booked through September 11, 2021. But you can try your luck, which would include clicking through every possible time slot under each date. In case you fail to find a seat on your preferred date, make sure to register on their waiting list. The restaurant will contact you if in case seats become available on your chosen date.
Reservations open in seasons. The Summer Season 2021 started on June 1 will continue through September 11. For this season, the restaurant’s menu is loaded with vegetables and bits of seafood. The menu has undergone a lot of creativity during the pandemic, something that Noma is eager to unveil for those who dine here. It includes a delightful dessert of raspberry, rhubarb, and cream tarts topped with fresh summer raspberries. There is also a chilled soup of beets with geranium which has to be consumed from a cup of flowers. And there is also the Norwegian scallop with raw shrimp, seasoned with blue mussel juice and horseradish.
Payment has to be made in full at the time of booking — DKK 2,800 (USD 456.60 or INR 33,350) per person. The payment does not include drinks, which are made available on the day. According to the restaurant’s official site, wine pairing would cost DKK 1,800 (USD 293.53 or INR 21,439) and juice pairings DKK 1,000 (USD 163.07 or INR 11,912).
El Celler de Can Roca, Girona, Spain
El Celler de Can Roca was named the best restaurant in the prestigious The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2013 and 2015.
It is run by the brothers Roca — Joan, Josep and Jordi. Joan, the eldest, is the head chef. Josep is the sommelier and Jordi, the youngest, is the pastry chef. All three are masters of their craft. For instance, Joan’s expertise has led him to be recognised as Honoris Causa Doctor by the University of Girona and has collaborated on the Science & Cooking course at Harvard.
The dining area is itself an architectural masterpiece, with a triangular glass enclosure sheltering a small interior forest where trees rise to touch the open sky. With so much talent, a family history of producing delectable dishes, a restaurant that looks like a piece of art, and food and drinks that are prepared by three of the best in the world, El Celler de Can Rosa is understandably among the most sought after restaurants in the Catalan region of Spain.
The restaurant accepts reservations 11 months in advance. Only two to 12 diners can be accommodated. El Celler de Can Roca is currently booked till May 31, 2022. You can try on the first day of every month at exactly midnight local time. Booking is online so you have to be quick to snag a table. In case you fail to get a seat, you can put your name on the waiting list.
Talula’s Table, Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, USA
The farm-to-table restaurant announces the dates when it is ready to serve patrons and also has its number listed on the official site where you can call to make a booking. Sound’s easy? Here’s the thing: You have to call exactly one year to the dates made available by them at 7 am, and there will be hundreds trying to get through. So it’s like a phone-line battle you have to win. You will again have to confirm your reservation two months in advance and notify the restaurant of the exact number of guests you are bringing. It reserves eight to 12 people for its farm table and four to eight diners for its nook table. An entire table is booked at one go so you have to bring the minimum number of guests depending on which of the two tables you have booked.
Talula’s Table is actually a gourmet market and café of the small borough in Chester County and turns into a restaurant at night. The restaurant is open from 7 pm to 11 pm on the dates it is serving. There are usually four menus: Early Autumn, Late Autumn, Spring and Winter. The Winter 2021 menu has delicacies such as beef tartare, crispy lamb spare rib, Berkshire pork, and Moody Blue — a dish made of smoked blue cheese, Meyer lemon, marmalade, walnuts and crisps. The dishes are made from organically grown sustainable seasonal produce sourced locally. Remember that the menu cannot be modified, so you have to inform beforehand of any food allergies you may have.
All menus are eight courses. As of now, it costs USD 115 (INR 8,530) per person, excluding taxes and other charges.
Quintessence, Tokyo, Japan
The menu at Quintessence is carte blanche and changes daily. The dishes, which are selected by the chef, are made from seasonal produce. Ingredients are sourced from all over the world.
A highlight of the restaurant is its cooking process, which is called cuisson — an art that chef-owner Shuzo Kishida acquired during his days at Paris‘ L’Astrance. Cuisson involves a process where food such as meat is roasted at low temperature for a long time. This helps in bringing out the finest taste of the meat. Chef Kishida follows the three processes for which L’Astrance is known but has moulded them into a more Japanese traditional cooking style. For instance, through the assaisonné, or seasoning process, Kishida takes note of the finer differences between French and Japanese seasoning styles.
The one-course dinner menu has 12 dishes, including four desserts, costing JPY 29,500 (USD 267.90 or INR 19,740) per person. In a normal world, reservations could be done over a call or online two months ahead of the desired date. But due to the pandemic, the restaurant now requires guests to book three months in advance. The restaurant must be notified of any ingredient or food you cannot consume, based on which it may or may not grant your booking request.
The Fat Duck, Bray, England
There are two things worth noticing immediately about The Fat Duck. The first is that the fine dining restaurant is run by the legendary British celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal. The second is the heritage building that houses the restaurant sits like a gem in the middle of the very Instagrammable suburban village on the banks of River Thames in Berkshire.
The Fat Duck was named the world’s best restaurant in 2005 by 50 Best and was later added to the elite Best of Best hall of fame list. It is in this restaurant that Blumenthal created culinary magic with molecular gastronomy, producing world-famous dishes like bacon and egg ice cream and triple-cooked chips. The menu is renowned for its multi-sensory contents and unusual combinations of flavours. The entire tasting takes around four hours.
On the occasion of the restaurant’s 25th anniversary in 2020, Blumenthal introduced a four-volume anthology menu that will be available for a year through 2021. It leads guests through some of the best dishes that the restaurant has created over the years besides other iconic fares. Among them is pommery mustard ice cream known as red cabbage gazpacho, aerated beetroot, the mock turtle soup, the outstanding snail porridge and, of course, the triple-cooked chips. A different menu is presented for each quarter. Besides these, The Fable Tree menu is dedicated entirely to Christmas and then there is a 58-page guide to The Fat Duck’s phenomenal wine collection.
Reservations are done online by date, time and number of guests, of which between two to six are booked at a time. At the time of writing, almost all seats across time slots have been booked all the way up to September 30, 2021. But keep checking the dates; you might find a vacancy just in case someone cancels. Otherwise, you may join the waitlist. Prices range from GBP 250 to GBP 325 (USD 352 to USD 457, or INR 26,106 to INR 33,893).
Mirazur, Menton, France
Mirazur is certainly one of the toughest restaurants to book a seat in, but all efforts are worth it. The restaurant is located in one of the most scenic regions on earth — the French Riviera. It is housed in a rotunda-shaped building from the 1930s, which overlooks the glittering blue waters of the Ligurian Sea that forms a coastline with the commune of Menton. Towering behind is a vertical mountain and a few metres from the restaurant is the Italian border.
Mirazur was named the World’s Best Restaurant in 2019 by 50 Best. Its menu is in a league of its own. The restaurant serves dishes inspired by its surroundings—garden, mountain and sea. The entire menu was overhauled in 2020 and is now divided into four variations named flowers, roots, fruits and leaves. The dishes are placed according to variation. For instance, a delicious plate of squid, apricot and snowflakes is part of ‘flowers’ while the crab emietty with veil of oxalys is part of ‘leaves’. Foie gras with cocoa and cherries is an example of a ‘fruits’ dish.
The restaurant has a garden which is the source of some of its ingredients. Seafood is sourced from local fisherfolk while other essentials such as dairy products and fruits come from hinterland farmers.
Now, how do you book a seat here? Check the official website. Mirazur serves only one variation on any given day and this is clearly marked on its calendar, which is available on the booking page. So you can select your date based on what type of dish you want to enjoy. As of now, most dates up to September 30, 2021, have been booked. But there are some time slots still available. You will have to shell out EUR 320 (USD 388 or INR 28,339) per person for the nine courses.
Editor’s Note: Keeping the current situation of the pandemic in mind, T+L India recommends every reader to stay safe, and take all government-regulated precautions in case travel at this time is absolutely necessary. Please follow our stories on COVID-19 for all the latest travel guidelines.