Yanagiya has been one of the top-ranked restaurants in Japan for a long while, along side Matsukawa, Quintessence and Sushi Saito. It used to be on top of my list because of its introduce-only policy, but it is now open to public. Even so, the earliest reservation we got was in six months. Also, Yanagiya only takes reservations for groups of over 4 people.
The restaurant located in the mountain in Mizunami in Gifu Prefecture. The restaurant was opened more than seven decades ago, it is currently run by the third generation. We took local train from Nagoya to Mizunami followed by a taxi to Yanagiya. It took us slightly over an hour to reach the restaurant. There are six private rooms in the restaurant which can fit up to 100 guests.
Every morning, chefs will hunt animals in the mountain. Famous seasonal dishes includes Unagi and Ayu in Summer, duck and matsutake in Autumn, boar and bear in winter, mountain vegetables in Spring...
We visited in early May when Ayu was not yet in season, but mountain vegetables are still available. We had varieties of fish from the local streams and lakes, as well as meat from the mountains nearby, includes Amago, Chi-Ayu (baby sweet fish), deer and duck. Grilled Amago was ready when we arrived at the restaurant.
After having Amago, we had the classical dish from Yanagiya - baby bee larva cooked with soy, ginger and sugar. The mountain vegetable tempura was the best non-grilled-meat dishes throughout the meal. Sashimi platter includes sakura masu and ikura which were pretty as well.
At the same time, our chef - Masashi Yamada, who is the youngest son, was preparing our next grilled dish, grilled duck skin for us.
We enjoyed two different parts from duck and deer that night. Started with grilled duck skin, followed by deer fillet, duck breast, and deer sirloin. It was also my first time having grilled duck skin, i know it sounds weird but our table coincided it was the best meat dish of the meal. Deer fillet was quite dry, while duck breast was smelling (although i rarely detect this), deer sirloin was a better part in comparison.
Although Yanagiya is famous for grilling animals, i much prefer their non-grilling dishes especially the vegetable delicacies we had this time. Besides the delicious vegetable tempura we previously had, the assorted cooked vegetables was also worth-mentioning. However, Ayu tempura was kind of disappointing which is not hard to tell by its poor looking.
When Yanagiya was just opened decades ago, it was actually famous for pork/boar pot. We weren't surprised that the duck pot was so memorable which was no doubt the highlight of the meal. The duck broth has a deep umami flavor, with a nourishing compliments of duck meat, yam, potatos, mushrooms, mountain vegetables etc. None of us could resist to refilling our bowls.
Rice and pickles were then served, i really loved the tender bamboo shoots inside, the Kobashira scallops gives an oceanic hint. Side by duck soup from the pot and young pickles to cleanse the palates.
The dining experience at Yanagiya was quite unique among all the restaurants i had been to. Chef Yamada was really friendly and talkative (he speaks very good English) which harmonised the ambiance like eating at home. While to be honest, our table found Yanagiya was overrated as the dishes weren't really as amazing as expected. Yanagiya also offers a wide selection of world-class wines which sells almost at their original prices.
Our bill only slightly over 15000 yen per head which i have no complain with. It worth a try once in a while but i don't think i will make another trip from Tokyo to Gifu just for Yanagiya, and i don't think i will be back in the near future.