Last weekend, Daniel Cox cooked dinner for me — well, me and a dozen or so other lucky souls who found their way to the obscure venue in Yokohama where he served three nigh-on-impromtu pop-up feasts.
For those out of the UK gastronomic loop, Dan is the man in charge at Aulis in Cumbria (northern England), which is the research kitchen for L'Enclume, the Michelin two-star, 10/10 restaurant by Simon Rogan. Besides developing the menu, running the restaurant farm and going out foraging, Dan also serves exclusive multi-course chef's table meals at Aulis. That's the kind of dinner we had the other day.
Dan was brought over to Japan for a week by Tom and Emi of Libushi — more at their website here — who are based up in Nozawa Onsen, in Nagano Prefecture, where they have a farm. It was a massive opportunity for those of us who can't nip up to Cumbria on a whim, or even to Roganic, the much-lauded limited-edition (two years only) restaurant Rogan set up in London.
Here are a few images from the other evening, with simple descriptions of the dishes. Dan did describe the ingredients and preparations in considerable detail, but you'd have to ask him yourself about the finer points involved...
The venue was a discreet little second-floor cafe space in Yoshidamachi, a grungy but now gentrifying (with plenty of good things happpening) district just to the north of Kannai Station in Yokohama.
One long, large table; just over a dozen people sitting on one side; the kitchen space on the other. The pots of herbs and shoots set into the table were grown on the Libushi farm in Nozawa, and most of the produce used in the dinner came from them too.
We sat back and watched as Dan prepared the food, with the help of his sous-chef for the evening, Kensaku Katagiri — a.k.a. Ken-san — from Nozawa Onsen, where he works in the kitchen of his family's hotel.
Dan introduced each course, while Emi translated into Japanese, also adding a bit of extra context where necessary.
1. First up as an appetizer: Pig and Eel — croquettes of Beniton breed pork (raised in Iida, also in Nagano Pref.) with unagi eel. These were combined and cooked as croquettes, with a crispy deep-fried coating made with potato starch set with tapioca to make it fluff up beautifully. A great starter and an excellent way to kick off the meal.
Here it is, broken open...
And this is what we drank with it: Ryugan, a grape related to Koshu, from Colline de Sanctuaire, Nagano.
2. Next, another brilliant dish: red shrimp on thin home-made crackers, topped with a wicked sauce of mitsuba and English parsley (but grown in Nozawa). A beautiful – and delectable – symbolism: the coming together of the two countries at this event. You can just make out the layer of soft "cheese" that Dan made himself a day or so ahead of the event.
Third course: Hokkaido oyster poached in its shell in ichiban dashi — made with Nozawa spring water and prepared the way Dan learned from umami-master Yoshihiro Murata of Kikunoi. Because it was cooked at a low temperature, it retained its shape perfectly.
Served on a bed of celery and nama-wakame seaweed (from Kagawa Pref.), it was garnished with oka-hijiki and fennel frond, and served in a lacquered bowl intended for miso-shiru (no actual miso in it; that would come later on).
And this is what we were drinking with it: a nifty junmaishu sake (from Nagano of course) called Michelle, after the Beatles ditty.
Next up: Carpaccio of akami tuna, seasoned with an amazing, aromatic charcoal-smoke oil that Dan prepared from the white ash of premium binchotan charcoal. This was served on a yogurt sauce with fine slivers of kabu turnip, garnished with kaiware daikon spouts and sprinkled with a mix of roasted seeds.
So good it deserves a close-up... Nice lacquerware too!
We were served a different sake with this one: Mizuo Hatsuyuki-no-mai (meaning: "dance of the first snow") hiya-oroshi brewed in Nagano. Apparently, the water used by Mizuo to brew its sake is the same Nozawa spring water that is used in all the dishes Dan prepared at this dinner. It's also the same spring that Tom and Emi use for watering their vegetables, herbs and shoots.
Course 5 was also very Japanese in inspiration and presentation...
A couple of days previously, Dan said, he'd been out in the forests of Nagano with a professional forager and eventually they came across a huge carpet of nameko, maitake, shimeji and other fungi — more wild mushrooms in one place than he'd ever seen before.
He served the nameko together with scallops that had been lightly smoked (in cherry wood), bathed in a stock prepared from the wild mushrooms in a torigara (chicken wings) base. The garnish was slivers of Nozawa-grown green shiso leaf, and finely grated British hazel nuts.
Course 6: Hirame (flounder) poached in dashi; kabocha puree; baby-leaf nozawana greens; a sauce made from onion, celery and fennel, with some miso in it as well as clam dashi.
The garnish for this was shaved crisp-fried chestnuts, foraged from the Nozawa woods. Lovely.
And this is what we drank with it: a very tasty Chardonnay from the St.Cousair winery [in... yes, you guessed, Nagano]
7. The meat course: Wagyu beef — the cut known as zabuton — from cattle raised (also in Nagano Pref.) on a diet of apples, which gives a wonderful sweet aroma to their meat. After long cooking at low temperature, it was seared over the teppan, then sliced and served with a splash of fragrant egoma (shiso) oil.
Dan served it with wedges of beet and red frill mustard leaf, a puree made from apple cider, and a sauce fragrant with the umami of miso (white and hatcho) and sake [and yes, my notes are getting sketchier by the course here!].
The drink paired with this one was cider [unfortunately no photo for this, but it was a stonker].
And finally dessert: freshly made soft sorbet made from the locally-pressed juice of mikan mandarins, which was accompanied by a crisp sponge honeycomb; a puree of sweet potato (grown by Tom and Emi); garnished with a sprig of shungiku (chrysanthemum greens) and sprinkled with a few yellow chrysanthemum petals.
We also had some of that same mikan juice to drink along with dessert. Produced for Ken-san's hotel, it tasted almost as thick and rich as a mango smoothie. No wonder it's called "Superlativ"!
And that, basically, was it. What a great meal! We staggered off into the night, just in time for our last train. At least we didn't have to get back from Cumbria...
Thanks again, Dan! And to Tom and Emi: great job!