US President Barack Obama will reportedly dine at a tiny Tokyo sushi restaurant on Wednesday — a place with three coveted Michelin stars but only a handful of seats — ruled with an iron rod by its redoubtable 88-year-old owner, Jiro.
The world’s most powerful man, who will be dining with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, will be entirely at the mercy of Jiro Ono, whose exacting standards and tireless work ethic have made him legendary among global foodies.
The commander-in-chief of one of the planet’s most fearsome armed forces, who sits at the helm of a multi-trillion dollar economy, will have no menu to choose from — even if he could read it — because Jiro selects the dishes he serves and will not take orders from his customers.
And for a man used to the finest presidential suites in the plushest global hotels, the setting may come as a bit of a surprise.
Sukiyabashi Jiro — Wednesday’s venue, according to Nippon TV and TBS — has only 24 seats, sits in a slightly scruffy basement of an ageing commercial building and is connected to a Tokyo subway station.
But that has not been enough to deter even the most discerning diners, who must book months in advance to secure a seat.
The establishment is the proud bearer of three Michelin stars, awarded for the first time when the Tokyo edition of the gourmet guide was launched in 2007, and renewed every year since.
“The cool and refreshing quality of the restaurant as a whole, the concern for the customer, the perfectionism in selecting the furnishings — the spirit shown here has much in common with the world of the tea ceremony,” the Michelin guide’s launch edition said.
“The ‘left-handed master craftsman’, Jiro Ono, creates the finest sushi with swift, fluid movements,” the guide gushed in 2012.
Jiro’s rigid discipline and unending pursuit of perfection were the subject of the 2011 US documentary, ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’.
The film showed how Jiro and his chefs buy their fish every morning at the storied Tsukiji market in Tokyo from trusted dealers who know never to supply him with anything but the best.
The restaurant offers set courses only, consisting of 20 pieces of sushi, with prices starting at 30,000 yen ($300) per person.
“The 20 or so pieces may not come cheap but just consider the exquisite tastes,” said the 2012 Michelin guide.
Along with world-renowned chefs like Joel Robuchon, Sukiyabashi Jiro also counts Hollywood A-listers including Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway among clients.
Dinner diplomacy comes as Tokyo and Washington are engaged in delicate trade talks, with wide disagreements remaining particularly over farm and auto products.
The evening is being portrayed in local media as a chance for bonding between Obama, who is portrayed as a “dry” and “business-like” pragmatist, and the sometimes stilted Abe.