Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Kaiseki Times Two

While in Tokyo we finally tried Hanasanshou in the Park Hotel, Shiodome and revisited Kazahana at The Conrad Tokyo. Both are Japanese restaurants offering Kaiseki menus.

Kaiseki is a traditional multicourse lunch or dinner, sort of like a Japanese version of degustation. In Japan Kaiseki can be extremely formal, stemming from Kyoto court traditions, contemplative stemming from links to the solemnity of the tea ceremony, or modern style and more relaxed. The food served is  always linked to the seasons and seasonality of ingredients. You will not find a winter dish served in summer etc.

Plates, bowls, crockery and décor are also taken in to account for kaiseki meals. Décor will be adjusted to reflect the season, with bonsai or ikebana being used, scrolls and other art work are also used sparingly in the room. As the dishes are bought to the table they are placed on a tray in front of each diner,sort of like a placemat.

Our first visit to Hanasanshou was a fantastic dining experience. We did not realise how popular Hanasanshou is. On several of the days during our stay, it was always full and not just with hotel guests. Thankfully, as we were going out one morning, we managed to make a reservation.

Located on the side of the hotel that faces east, the room has a main dining area along the window and then to each side of the bar a curtained area for a more private dining experience. Lots of dark woods are utilized throughout the room with trendy blue lighting around the bar.
Hanasanshou had a special menu for house guests so we chose to have that. 8 courses served Kaiseki style for around A$50. The other menus were also Kaiseki style with the difference between each being the number of courses.
First courses out was a bowl of boiled taro stem from Kyoto served simply with a bonito and soy sauce. Very light and refreshing.
The appetizer was a plate of seasonal specialties. Fresh thin wheat noodles, sushi of conger eel, Chinese lantern fruit, fruit fed sweet fish salted and dried overnight with boiled octopus, young corn, grilled eggplant with sweet miso sauce.
Clear soup with a steamed pike conger eel dumpling. Very tasty and the dumpling was light and fluffy. Those little bits floating in the soup are seaweed. Here you can really see the use of bowls reflecting the dish/season.
Tuna sashimi was next, it was meant to be yellowtail but they had run out so they gave us tuna. Any kind of sashimi is alright by us. The wasabi was super fresh and grated just before serving, a taste revelation!
 Next up was our grilled dish of black cod baked in magnolia leaf, accompanied by edamame and ginger shoot.
A simmered pork belly with a thick, unctuous sauce, potato and beans was next. This was delicious and the pork melted in your mouth and was not too fatty.
Second last dish was rice cooked with barracuda and burdock along with miso soup. One of the best miso soups we have tried.
Finally seasonal fruit and green tea. Simple but refreshing end to a very flavoursome meal. Bright green maple leaves seemed to be the garnish of the season.
After checking in at the Conrad Hotel, it was time for lunch. It seems to be becoming a ritual that our first lunch when we stay at the Conrad is at Kazahana. 

Décor is fairly sleek, modern and minimalist. Charcoal grey, white tones and dark woods predominate. Miniature bonsais adorn the table and are changed as the seasons change.

A view of Hama-rikyu Onshi Tien and Tokyo Bay is the best decoration you could have.
We have tended to avoid uni (sea urchin) this trip, the appetizer had uni but they were happy to swap it out and it was replaced with abalone. Braised white Taro stems with abalone was our appetizer.
Second course was soup with tofu, a very interesting seaweed and fish cake. The seaweed was a new one to us and very slippery. It reminded us of the stamens in a lily but with a gelatinous bubble around the ‘stamen’ part.
Our third course was the seasonal delicacies. A selection of cold and hot dishes. Left to right tempura conger eel with braised eggplant, braised octopus and daikon radish, sashimi of squid and seabass, chilled soba noodles with accompanying sauce.
Generally at a kaiseki meal everyone gets the same dishes, at Kazahana we were able to choose which main meal we wanted, I chose grilled scallops and salmon which was accompanied by roasted vegetables with a Japanese pepper sauce. The sauce was quite mild but went really well with the seafood.
My wife opted for the pork stew dish (kakuni) which included a softly poached egg topped with summer truffles. Both main meals were accompanied by rice with perilla seasoning, Japanese pickles and Miso soup.
With dessert we were also able to choose between two options, I had the brown sugar cake with caramelized banana served with ice cream.
My wife ordered a pumpkin pudding with ice cream and a white cherry. Not a cakey pudding, this was more of a custard style. She said it was quite dense yet creamy.
We hope you enjoyed reading about our experience with the modern versions of kaiseki cuisine. 

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