US President Obama fulfils dreams of sushi on first night in Tokyo

US President Barack Obama with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe before a private dinner at Sukiyabashi Jiro restaurant in Tokyo on April 23, 2014. Mr Obama dined on Wednesday at the tiny Tokyo sushi restaurant ruled with an iron rod by its red
US President Barack Obama with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe before a private dinner at Sukiyabashi Jiro restaurant in Tokyo on April 23, 2014. Mr Obama dined on Wednesday at the tiny Tokyo sushi restaurant ruled with an iron rod by its redoubtable 88-year-old owner Jiro Ono. -- PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (AFP) - US President Barack Obama dined on Wednesday at a tiny Tokyo sushi restaurant - a revered spot with three coveted Michelin stars but only a handful of seats - ruled with an iron rod by its redoubtable 88-year-old owner.

The world's most powerful man, dining at the invitation of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, was 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, had 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. 

"That's some good sushi right there," Mr Obama remarked as he emerged from the restaurant after the hour-and-a-half dinner, the White House pool report said. Diners from a restaurant on the same basement floors, reportedly peeked through the windows and aimed their cameras to grab a picture of the president.

And for Mr Obama, a man used to the finest presidential suites in the plushest global hotels, the setting may have come as a bit of a surprise.

Sukiyabashi Jiro - Wednesday's venue - 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.

Mr Obama made the pilgrimage to the restaurant just after touching down in Tokyo at the start of an Asian tour, and took along US ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy and his national security adviser Susan Rice.

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 (S$450) per person.