This is where the Takazawa experience starts: a nondescript side street in Akasaka; a glowing white illuminated doorway framing a sleek glass door (up until May it used to be plain metal, which added even more to the mystique of not knowing what lay inside); a flight of stairs, the handrail also illuminated, a glowing poem leading you upward…
...into the small square dining room, so precisely illuminated you could be in a high-end art gallery. The official photo (below) is misleading as it suggests there are four tables. In fact Takazawa only serves three parties per evening, with a maximum of ten people.
Three walls are lined with wood paneling; the fourth holds an imposing counter of polished steel. This is Takazawa’s front kitchen. Part laboratory, part stage, he performs his alchemy here each evening, putting the final touches to the elaborate succession of courses that make up his extended banquets...
Besides the new name on the front panel (before it said Aronia de...), Takazawa has made some additions to his workspace. He now has a charcoal grill on top, in front of the teppan — adding another, more traditional facet to the test-tubes, liquid nitrogen and blow torches that have long been his contemporary stock in trade.
That, then, is the setting. From here on, it's all about the food. Starting with the menu. This is customized for each party, meaning we did not have exactly the same as what the other table got. Only a couple of the courses (out of 11) I'd been served before — Takazawa keeps a record of what he's served each customer on past visits — and most of the dishes were new, introduced this year.
Before we even embarked on the first course, we were served a series of amuse-bouches. Starting with a mouthful of warm soup — cream of cauliflower to be precise — served in spherified form, topped with slices of white truffle. Tip it all into your mouth in one go, we were told. A very nice combination of smooth and crunchy, stimulating the taste buds and gastric juices...
…followed by a crisp umami-rich roll of konbu seaweed coated with dried seafood: tiny shrimp, chirimen jako (tiny whole anchovies) etc. This senbei-like snack called for a beer or, even better, sake. But it also went just fine with our aperitif bubbly.
And as a third starter, a miniature plant pot in which delicate young herbs were planted in edible "earth," a miso-sesame mayonnaise topped with crispy savoury bread crumbs. The herbs were chervil and mizuna, both in flower (quite unusual both of them) and with them there was a sliver of kabu turnip little larger than a matchstick. Cute, yes, but also appetising, just as they were supposed to be. Like many of the vegetables Takazawa serves, these herbs came from the market farmers of Kamakura.
The meal proper started with Takazawa's signature Ratatouille — which is actually a terrine of vegetables in a multicolored mosaic. Each of the vegetables is prepared in different styles: steamed, simmered, sauteed, raw, pressed. The outside wrapping is red cabbage, blanched and lightly vinegared to hold the color. As seasoning, it's served with a single salted black bean (Chinese-style doubanjiang) and a small crystal of salt. Again this is intended as a "one-mounthful" experience — though it's quite a large portion for those with small mouths...
Before the next course arrived: home-made bread, baked with matcha tea and whole kuromame (Japanese black beans), warm from the charcoal grill and served with a small pot of smooth pork rillettes.
Course 2 was the Vegetable Parfait, as featured in my post the other day. The base was a gazpacho of fruit tomato; the next layer was a parmesan cream with swirls of basil oil; and on top there were minute whole tomatoes, baby leaves, colourful petals and a scoop of caviar. The "wafer" was crisp black cabbage, slightly salty and oiled (in the way that sheets of Korean nori are). A shame to stir it all up, really, but so good you want to suck up the very last drops — straws are provided.
Here's that overhead shot again (in all its grainy glory)...
Course 3: Sea.
We were each served a rock-pool selection of percebes barnacles (from northern Kyoto); a tiny pink crab, crunchy but easily eaten whole; tender sashimi cuts of hon-mirugai clam; a single shiro-hamaguri clam cooked in an ayu-based fish sauce (from Oita); a few shirauo whitebait; and strands of crunchy Okinawan umi-budō seaweed, on a light scattering of "sand" made from powdered sakura-ebi shrimp.
But that wasn't all. A long platter was placed in the center of the table, holding even more seafood — firm but tender abalone flesh, and also its liver, dark and intense; scoops of orange uni urchin; mounds of soft white crab meat; small sazae turban shells; green and red seaweed — all set into an ocean of clear jellied dashi stock and accented with lemon foam.
Now it really was time for some sake: Yuki-no-bijin, a crisp tasty junmai ginjo from Akita.
Course 4: In my personal mental shorthand, I've given this dish a subtitle: Taste of White. On the actual menu, though, the name is prosaic, albeit descriptive: Powdery Dressing. A variety of white vegetables — lotus root; udo stem; cauliflower; daikon; burdock; white asparagus; slivers of blanched ginger; plus guinea fowl breast and also white liver. Even the sweet corn was whiter than it looks in the photo...
The dressing scattered over the top was also white, but in nitro-chilled powder form. It melted to dress the dish with sunflower oil and vinegar. Ultimately, though, this was the weakest of the courses, the least memorable despite the impressive fuming of the dressing as it deliquesced.
Course 5: Next was a "special energy" soup, aka Takazawa Gold. The creamy soup combined the beneficial extracts of asparagus and suppon turtle — reputed to give great vigour in all departments, especially from the debilitation of the summer heat.
Along with the soup, we were also presented with a deepfried croquette of suppon meat and a single green asparagus deep-fried in a crispy crust of black crouton crumbs.
We were shown samples (uncooked) of the purple asparagus used in the soup recipe. Impressive. Unfortunately, in the cooking process all the purple hue is lost and the finished soup comes out green. Like the deep-fried green asparagus (above) and the white ones in the previous dish, these are all grown in Hokkaido.
Next up (lost count of the courses for now), Salt. It's not about the fish or the broad beans or the end of season sansai (fuki-no-to and yama-udo leaves), it's the colourful microdots of seasoned salt that define this dish. From left to right: plain; sakura; matcha; turmeric.
Nonetheless, the whole young ayu sweetfish was outstanding. And the tempura batter even lighter than in previous incarnations. Another of the highlights.
Course 7: Carbonara. Not that there was any pasta involved. No mirrors, but a nice touch with the smoke inside those globes!
Strands of wild green asparagus (French); a beautiful poached egg with firm soft white and rich golden yolk – from hens farmed free-range in the highlands of Yatsugatake (Nagano). Topped with slivers of crunchy summer truffle (again) and a sprinkle of grated parmesan for extra umami goodness, this had a great balance of flavours and textures.
Course 8: The Feast from Hokkaido — aka the seafood course.
Amadai, pan-fried in the classic Japanese style, the soft white flesh contrasting with the scales all crisped up. A whole botan-ebi prawn. A slice of green asparagus (yes, again) and fine-slivered fuki stem. As the name suggests, all the ingredients are sourced from Hokkaido. Excellent.
Course 9: Arabesque, the meat course. This looked great, that vibrant green against that handsome matte ceramic platter. And in terms of flavour, it was great. Three large juicy cubes of wagyu (from Saga), nicely rare and topped with kinome sprigs and capers, on a swoosh of green sauce (peppery kinome leaves blended into white miso). More curlicues were provided by the slivers of green asparagus (yes, once again) and mangetout peas. That beef was outstanding!
Course 10: Mimosa. And then it was time for the first desert. This was a light "cocktail" of citrus topped with champagne bubbles. Nice. Refreshing on the palate.
Course 11: Stone Pavement, a beautifully composed dessert that was really excellent. The image is of a narrow backstreet in Kyoto, its paving stones represented by crunchy morsels of almond. There are "wells" (or are they ponds?) of kuromitsu syrup, and a sprinkling of matcha green tea to evoke moss. A scoop of ice cream. And a wedge of cheesecake infused with lime, reinvigorating the taste buds.
Definitely worthy of a close-up...
To round off a remarkable four hours at the table, we were given a tray of small post-dessert goodies to go with our tea (there's also a selection of herbal infusions): a pig-shaped cookie cutely inscribed with the word "buta" (Japanese for "pig"); a miniature block of intense dark chocolate; a honeycomb-like wedge of candy; and a small square of nougat lightly flecked with red umeboshi, hinting of tartness (and aiding our digestion).
So we ended, as we began, on a more Western note. It was a considerable banquet, full of surprises, creative highs, and occasional dips in intensity but always stimulating. The choreography of the cuisine; the cocoon-like quiet and isolation of the dining room; and the very personal level of attention from Chef Takazawa's wife, Akiko, both before and during the meal: there is nowhere else in Tokyo quite like it.
A few practical matters:
Takazawa offers three menus: ¥20,000 (9 courses); ¥24,000 (11 courses; the meal described above); or ¥30,000 (also 11 courses, but with more expensive ingredients). However, the exact composition/number of dishes is not written in stone, and can be discussed and adjusted (for example, you might want fewer courses or a particular dish).
Note that service charge and tax are not included in those prices, which bumps up the bill further.
Reservations can be made by email — in English — up to three months ahead to <[email protected]>