All tagged kaiseki


Our meal at L2O was a back-and-forth mix of traditional Japanese kaiseki with modern French cuisine. The restaurant really shined when it stuck to the simple and authentic Japanese dishes, as chef Gras has a remarkably precise cooking style that highlighted the very subtle flavors found in fish and vegetables. Had I not known about chef Gras, I might have thought he grew up in Japan. L2O also served some dishes that were a fusion of the two cuisines. This was the restaurant’s most interesting aspect. The richness of butter can really intensify mild flavors, particularly the subdued flavors of mushroom and cooked fish. But at times it seemed like two different chefs were cooking the meal, taking turns between French and Japanese styles. Sometimes their was synergy in the sequence of courses, other times dissonance.


Over the past decade, Roppongi has become the center for Tokyo's nightlife. Full of bars and restaurants, Roppongi is loud, bright, and full of things to do. In contrast, nestled high on one of its hills, is a small oasis named Takamura. Takamura, built over sixty years ago, is a Japanese kaiseki restaurant serving private dinners in one of its eight rooms. The service, as well as the food, are exceptional. The architecture is traditional: wooden construction with rice paper doors and tatami mats. Diners are greeted at the door and taken to their room. The space is small and cosy, however despite the thin walls and presence of other diners, it would be hard to be convinced of their existence.

The table is a modified floor-seating arrangement with a two-foot depression into the floor. This means diners can sit at floor level without sitting uncomfortably with their legs crossed, like sitting in a chair. Underneath the table is a heated floor; so on cold winter nights with the wind howling and garden chimes softly clanging everybody inside is warm and comfortable.


Kyoto's busy Shijo street -- now bordered with arcades, single-item shops, and fast-food -- was something quite different a hundred years ago. Shijo street is located in the center of Gion, the Geisha district of Japan's old capital city, Kyoto. The ancient Shijo-dori, originally constructed as a means for travellers to get directly to Yasaka shrine, is now one of Kyoto's businest streets, full of cars and tourists. Remnants of the street's rich cultural past remain, including hundreds of narrow alleyways leading to quiet courtyards where one can still catch a glimpse of an ancient way of life. Chihana, which translates to "flower patch," was at first difficult to find. It didn't help that the name was written in little kanji: チ花. The restaurant is located at the end of a long and dark alley no wider than an arm's width sandwiched between two modern shops off this busy street. With each step into the courtyard the sound of traffic dissipated into the darkness. At the end was an unlabeled sliding door -- common in this area of Kyoto where private Geisha dinners are held.


The simplicity and minimalism of Japanese cuisine never cease to amaze me. Particularly with traditional kaiseki, sauces and spices practically don't exist. Instead of flavoring the ingredients in a dish with external condiments, ingredients are chosen for their own intrinsic flavors. This ingredient-focused approach took a bit of getting used to; in fact the first time I tried kaiseki, I didn't like it. I thought the flavors were dull, repetitive, and boring. But the more I ate it and the longer I spent in Japan, the more I began to appreciate it. My barometer of flavor reset. Instead of loud spicy Thai cuisine full of spices and herbs, or very sweet and sticky Shanghainese cusine, Kaiseki lies flat in the middle: nothing too sweet, salty, or sour. It is a cuisine of modesty and humility where the natural flavors of the ingredients are put on a pedestal to shine.