Greeny’s hit a round number this year. So to celebrate it, we thought we’d go sample the “special Kaiseki” menu at Mitsukoshi.
Kaiseki literally means “stone in the belly” and it’s a series of small dishes, each with its own theme, usually small portions and almost always seasonal. Each individual dish is almost always small, but carefully balanced, with just the right amount of everything.
The first course was charcoal grilled wagyu, simmered mushroom and spinach dressed with vinegar and an eel and avocado tartare. The chef actually came out to greet us to talk and explain the food, which was great, because we needed a bit of guidance as to what was what and which order to eat it all in. The wagyu beef was nicely cooked, and had just the right amount of fat in it to set the deep flavour off. In contrast to this, the mushroom and spinach was simple, to balance the heavier quality of the meat. The highlight of this course was the eel and avocado tartare, a palate cleanser would you believe. This morsel kept changing its flavour, you first get hit by the fishy, chunky flavour of the eel and then the fruitiness of the avocado hits you.
The next course was, yellowtail, tuna and salmon sashimi, so fresh it was almost swimming. There is something instinctive about sashimi. You know almost without being able to articulate it that it’s good stuff. Full of life. We agreed that this course was better than the starter because of the quality of the fish, and sadly our mouths got the better of our cameras, and all thats in that photo is an empty cabbage leaf.. I assure you, the sashimi was there at one point.
Just when we thought, it couldn’t get any better, the lobster tempura arrived, large chunks of tail wrapped in a leaf with a strong flavour, with deep fried lotus. Dipping sauce was a tangy thing little bit reminiscent of thousand island but went very well with the other dipping sauce and lobster. It left you wanting more. The tempura batter wasn’t heavy, just light enough for you to know its there but not heavy enough to swamp the lobster. Chef had even carved the vegetables into the shapes of various flora and leaves, and I felt it was almost a shame eating something so beautifully carved, but in the end the stomach won. There was this spicy thing on a spoon with finely chopped chives that tasted amazing too, and I wasn’t quite sure what it was, as the flavours kept changing just like the eel tartare.
Chef then assured us that the paper pot our beef tongue stew came in would not burn. This dish was all about subtlety. One would at first think this was just a very nice beef stew, but, if you pay attention you’ll get hint of miso along with the creamy broth the tongue was in, and if you pay attention to the tongue itself you’ll notice that it’s a very lean meat, and it’d been just cooked enough to stay tender without going rubbery as overcooked tongue can often do. Put to the vote, this was the best course thus far.
To round the meal off, we had assorted nigiri sushi with a clear broth. It would seem at first that this is a bit of an anticlimax after the one-upmanship of the previous dishes. This came, somewhat oddly, with half a lime and the chef came out to explain the meal again.
If you’ll notice from the shot, we had a teapot and a teacup as well. This was for the broth, and what you do is put a small squeeze of lime into it before you swig it. I thought I’d try the broth without the lime to begin with, and yea, it was ok. It tasted of broth, but this was really the surprise of the night. When you add the lime to it, the broth turns into something of a circus of flavour, it’s a totally different thing, like chalk and cheese, and it felt that the beautifully presented sushi was playing second fiddle to the surprise of the broth. What also surprised me, and this is something of a testament to how well balanced all of this really was, I actually thought I fancied something like this after the heavier previous courses.
We forgot to photograph the dessert. Greedy gumdrops tucked into the chestnut ice cream before the camera came out. There was a yuzu citrus jelly that tasted great, reminiscent of a cross between an orange and a lime. The pear simmered in wine was lovely and boozy.
This was the sort of experience that leaves you feeling good. A lot of thought has obviously gone into it, and the attention to detail is incredible. The whole meal is more of a performance than a meal, with each element being carefully considered and planned, the portion sizes, the pacing of the meal, even how you feel after each course. The chef’s creativity and enthusiasm in his preparations, and the sheer pride he took in presenting his work made it a very positive thing. You got the impression he had fun making that food. It’s something that I’d happily do again. Kaiseki is seasonal so the menu here the next time I pitch up for it won’t be quite the same, but that’s part of the fun of it, you’ll never quite know what you’re gonna get.