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Four Seasons, Okura for Japanese fare

FOR Japanese food the quality of the produce is essential in making this cuisine a success and when it comes to sourcing the best ingredients in Shanghai, the city's five-star hotels are experts.

Two hotels that have developed a reputation for the excellence of their Japanese food are the Four Seasons Hotel's Shintaro restaurant and the Okura Garden Hotel's Yamazato restaurant.

Located on the second floor of the Four Seasons Hotel, Shintaro has proved to be one of the hidden gems of the city's Japanese offerings.

Led by their executive chef Jack Li, the kitchen serves up a range of classic Japanese dishes at surprisingly affordable prices.

From Shanghai, Li has adapted particular elements of dishes to cater for local palates but says his main focus in the restaurant is making sure guests enjoy some of the freshest produce in town.

"The tuna in my restaurant is the best tuna you can get, we use the best blue fin tuna you can find," he says.

"We don't go for a big list of options on the menu but everything should be the best quality."

A simple but superb sashimi plate highlights the freshness of the produce on offer, with the tuna a dark, deep rich red color with a slight sheen to the flesh that is a signature of top-quality tuna. The salmon and sea urchin on the plate also melt in the mouth.

Li's approach is proving a hit, with Shintaro bustling on a Monday night. The room has a live cooking station down one side and another waiting bar and sushi preparation area in an adjacent corner. Seeing the chefs at work adds an atmosphere to the room that is complemented by Japanese artworks depicting the changing seasons.

For diners looking for top-quality Japanese at affordable prices, the all-you-can-eat deal for 228 yuan (US$34) is hard to pass by. The excellent tuna is available plus a wide selection of expertly prepared rolls, appetizers and salads. Free flow beer, fresh juice and soft drinks can be added for an extra 110 yuan per person. For an additional 125 yuan, guests can have a range of premium cuts such as fresh Canadian oysters, salmon belly sashimi and chu-toro sashimi at what are remarkably cheap prices.

On the a la carte menu, the tuna, the grill offerings showcase Li's skill with a slightly sweet but tender broiled miso-brushed cod (180 yuan), a popular choice and the large tiger prawns (three pieces 210 yuan).

With Japanese owners, the Okura Garden Hotel naturally takes great pride in its Japanese food.

Yamazato had a makeover in May and it has plush, new private rooms, a new stylish sushi bar and a waiting bar from which to consider the more than 200 sake varieties on the restaurant wine list.

It is a great mix of private and public spaces, with the room having a serene calm atmosphere.

In addition, Yamazato features seats along a teppanyaki counter that serves a range of grilled meat, seafood and vegetables straight from a hot iron plate.

Okura are experts at the arts of teppanyaki cooking, having operated the Sazanka teppanyaki, which includes the Michelin one-star restaurant at the Hotel Okura Tokyo from which it draws recipes and chefs that are shared throughout its hotels around the world.

Yamazato Executive Chef Akira Kimura presents authentic Japanese cuisine to his guests and has more than 30 years' experience in preparing the finest traditional Japanese dishes.

Kimura is lending his expertise to showcasing Japan's so-called "king of mushrooms," the matsutake, during the month of August.

The Matsutake Fair will highlight this white, tender mushroom that has a faint and lingering pine fragrance and offer a number of dishes utilizing this fresh seasonal ingredient. A set Xuncai Matsutake Kaiseki menu starts at 800 yuan per person and there are gift boxes of fresh matsutake picked from Japan's mountains, which make ideal gift for a discerning food lover.

Prices start from 250 yuan for 180 grams; the price is 450 yuan for 350 grams and 1,200 yuan per kilogram.

Visitors to the World Expo Shanghai can also enjoy Yamazato food at the Japan Pavilion where Yamazato is the official restaurant.

Located to the right of the Japan Pavilion exit, the 220-square-meter restaurant seats 94 people and offers a range of authentic Japanese dishes.


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