The day at ryotei Hyoki begins slowly, when the city has calmed down to a quiet hum that makes the morning rush seem like a dream. The waiting staff who have just arrived first change into their kimono. They straighten their collars and tie their obi sashes while looking in the mirror whileundergoing a mental transformation.
One of their daily duties is to check each other’s kimono to make sure everything is properly set. The head hostess comments, “It’s important to notice even small changes in the hairstyle or clothing of the people they work with.” The habitual mindset of paying attention to minute changes in their co-workers naturally transfers into paying the same attention to detail with guests at the restaurant.
When the waiting staff are dressed, they go outside and prepare to open the restaurant. They hang the noren curtains, put out the sign, and splash water on the street. They perform these tasks with care while confirming the routine for the day ahead. Next they clean the windows, tables, handrails on the stairs, and other areas throughout the restaurant.
“Cleaning is an important job that allows guests who have chosen to spend their time with us spend it in complete comfort. I give them guidance so that they keep this in mind as they clean every day,” says the head hostess. She continues, “Some guests have been coming here since I began working here. They have used our restaurant for various occasions over their lifetime. Seeing the expressions on their faces at momentous times in their lives has left me filled with emotion.”
The team of chefs begin their work after checking the ingredients that are delivered in the morning. They get fresh vegetables, seafood, and meat delivered directly from various regions around Japan. First they inspect the ingredients, then they begin prepping the fish with quick and efficient handiwork. The head chef animatedly describes how selecting ingredients is a sign of the chef’s skill. “Even with the same kinki fish, you can have line-caught fish and fish caught in trawling nets, and at all different prices. Just by looking at the fish, you get ideas about how you’re going to prepare it, like how you’re going to use the head when you have a large fish, and how to prepare the fatty portions of the fish to bring out the best flavor. It’s a lot of fun.”
Along with the lunch preparations, the chefs also prepare food for the dinner service. First, they wash the fish, whose freshness is of prime importance, and fillet, debone, and otherwise prepare the fish so that it can be sliced for sashimi. Next, they blanch and simmer vegetables to be used in vegetable side dishes and other foods.
After this, they make the dashi broth that will be used in Hyoki’s signature shabu-shabu by slowly simmering bonito fish flakes and kombu seaweed to extract their umami flavors. A feature of Japanese cuisine is how dishes can taste very different depending on their preparation. By removing strong smells and harsh flavors, it is possible to maximize the inherent flavors of the various ingredients.
Even simple-looking dishes reveal their complexity and depth of flavor when eaten. Careful preparations are an indispensable aspect of Japanese cuisine with its depth of sophistication.
During their afternoon break, the kitchen and hall staff often take time to talk to one another. Ryotei are more than just places to enjoya luxurious meal; guests can enjoy themselves the entire time they are at the restaurant. If the kitchen staff and waiting staff do not feel like a team, it negatively impacts the atmosphere in the entire restaurant. Ryotei provide an incomparable experience for guests only when the service, atmosphere, and cuisine function as seamlessly links together as parts of a whole. Communication at times both big and small is the key to achieving this state.
As the temperature gradually falls, and the evening sun slowly sets in between the tall buildings, the entire staff are busy preparing to open the restaurant for the dinner service.
The waiting staff call guests on the phone to confirm their reservations for the following day, and check the details of guests with reservations that night one last time. “Lately we have more guests who have allergies to things like gluten and wheat. Many guests, especially from overseas, are also vegetarian. Allergies can be life-threatening, so we are careful to confirm allergies in advance,” explains the head hostess.
Guest information is relayed to the kitchen, and the waiting staff and chefs diligently go through the information together. This kind of communication and cross-checking takes a large share of the head hostess’ time among her many duties, and is an important part of providing hospitality to the restaurant’s valued guests.
Dinner service begins. Guests arrive one after the other, and the restaurant bustles with activity. The busiest time for the kitchen is between the hours of 6 and 8 p.m. The initial food preparation is all completed during the day. Everything is in its place, and the team of chefs is ready to provide food at just the right times once everyone in the dinner party has arrived.
The head chef is busy every day preparing dishes, and says his focus is on how to use every ingredient without waste. “Many people are involved in making ingredients of every type. There are the people who make the ingredients, who sell them, and who transport them. It’s our job and our mission to be the ones to ultimately finish putting the ingredients into the final dish. We feel the responsibility of carrying the thoughts and feelings of all these people as we prepare the food.”
The waiting staff also talk about what they feel is their mission. “We want to provide an extraordinary space and time for guests that they normally do not get to experience. All of the waiting staff take care in how they present themselves in every way; from how they speak to their demeanor and facial expressions - to create a refined ambiance for the entire restaurant.”
Guests gradually leave, and the restaurant is nearing the end of the dinner service. Once the last guests have been seen off, all the staff help clean and straighten the restaurant for closing.
The ryotei Hyoki is designed to offer many people time and space to relax. Its goal is to have more people know the profound nature of outstanding Japanese cuisine. With this philosophy from its founding in mind, the staff will come together again tomorrow to welcome guests anew.