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.
Service is extremely attentive and waitresses dressed in kimonos are highly trained in grace and poise.
Crab and octopus - Our first course was crab and octopus in a citrus gelee served inside a raw orange. The rind of the orange added a hint of acidity but also bitterness helping to temper the sweetness of the glee.
Small plates - Alongside the raw shellfish salad was a collection of smaller plates. This included spinach in a sesame paste, a cold unagi (freshwater eel) cake, pickled celery with potato mousse, roasted turnip, and cooked crab wrapped in rice paper. The diverse collection of dishes, each being no more than two bites, was engaging to eat: each bite taste different.
Small fish with ginko nuts - A handful of small deep-fried fish battered in tempura with two ginko nuts. The fish were extremely fresh and when combined with the salted tempura tasted like a lot like fresh potato chips. The warm ginko nuts had a texture like chestnut with a smooth surface. In combination these were more like cocktail snacks.
Cold soba noodles - A small bowl with freshly pulled buckwheat noodles, sesame, scallion, freshly grated wasabi, and a vinegar sauce. The texture of these noodles were fantastic: chewy and elastic. The slightly rough texture on the surface helped the noodles pick up the sauce and sesame seeds. This dish was light and refreshing.
Small dried fish - A small whole cured fish sided with yuzu and pickled vegetables. The skin of the fish was left on adding a subtle taste of the ocean, concentrated by the roasting process. The inside was cool to the touch with bits of translucency. There were a lot of small bones scattered throughout which, like speed bumps, required patience and care. This was a very Japanese flavor, a bit of an acquired taste, as the mix of fishiness and sweetness takes some time to get used to. I'm still getting used to it.
Roasted taro - A thick wedge of dry-roasted taro with a drizzle of clarified butter. This was outstanding. The dark-brown blisters that formed on the exposed center of the root added a smokey element which made the surface a bit crispy. The combination of the crispy skin with the smooth pasty interior added natural textural contrast. Once sliced, the clarified butter filled all the tiny crevices polishing the consistency.
Sashimi - Medium-fatty tuna with fluke, a contrast of fatty and lean fish. The sashimi was served over ice with freshly grated wasabi and shredded daikon radish. The flavor was extremely pure and simple, providing a time to step back and reflect on the texture and flavor of each bite.
Roasted duck in its fat, scallions, and green peppers - Thick strips of duck breast roasted tableside in a block of duck fat. The sizzling of the fat, which was the first ingredient placed on the hot stone, filled the room with an exhilaratingly warm and meaty smell. The fat was then removed and the duck left to sizzle until just barely cooked. After the duck was prepared, more fat was "melted" on the stove in preparation for roasting the accompanying vegetables. The fatty duck was served with miso paste, and grated daikon radish in a ponzu sauce. Also accompanying this dish was a small salad of julienned cucumber with scallions.
The texture of the duck was phenomenal: extremely gamey tasting more like calves liver than duck. The color glowed magenta, a sign that this was perfectly cooked.
Miso soup and rice - A bowl of fluffy white rice topped with small dried fish and miso soup. The small fish atop the bed of rice salted the thick grains nicely. The miso soup had small clams at the bottom, a pleasant surprise adding an element of brine and natural salt to the soup. The pickled vegetables were light and refreshing without being sweet.
Fresh strawberries and melon - One of the marvels of Japanese cuisine is the inherent understanding of diminishing returns: the enjoyment of each course decreases with fullness. I hate leaving a restaurant feeling full, sick, and overall worse than when I arrived. With most Western tasting menus, I feel great up until the sweet dessert courses -- which at many places occupy nearly half the menu -- and it's these courses that push me over the edge of comfort. Our meal finished with two incredibly sweet strawberries and a small wedge of melon.
Takamura is a respite from busy Tokyo, a spa for the mind and stomach. The tranquil environment sets the stage to concentrate on the purity of flavors of Japanese cuisine. The ingredient quality was exquisite -- one of the best pieces of duck I have ever tasted.