Tastes of Japan # 4 – The Art of Cooking


いただきます

“Ok Mr Ageing (call yourself a gourmet – more like a flippin’ gourmand if you ask me) Gaijin – what has a French restaurant got to do with the tastes of Japan?”

Let me endeavour to explain.

The world is divided into two types of people. Those, who, if not quite in the words of the old cliché ‘live to eat’, but rather who have a passion for food. And there are those for whom food is a function – a way of providing the energy needed to live life.

Simon and Lucy of the HSC are passionate about food and that passion is evident in every dish they serve in their lovely restaurant. Kasumi and I also share a love of food and I suspect if we didn’t, we would not this year be celebrating 30 years of marriage.

And if you are reading this, the chances are that you too are something of a foodie. If not, I suggest you might want to stop reading now because you will probably consider what follows to be pretentious nonsense.

In my experience of travelling around the world the countries whose people are most passionate about food are France and Japan. Passion bordering, in many cases, on obsession.

In Japan, almost every second TV programme has some reference to food in it. As mentioned in a previous blog, Japanese people will think nothing of queueing in line for over an hour to enjoy a 10-minute bowl of noodles. And they are very quick to give an opinion via social media if they don’t think a restaurant comes up to scratch.

In recent years, Kasumi and I have eaten at several Michelin starred restaurants in France (Paris and Nice) whose Japanese chefs produce French cuisine with a distinctive oriental edge to it. And in Tokyo there are French chefs blending French and Japanese flavours, textures and ingredients to come up with a special offering that bridges both cuisines.

A great example of this is Lionel Beccat at Esquisse in the Ginza area of Tokyo. If you visit Tokyo – a must visit is Ginza (at least to window shop) a part of the city which makes Bond Street and 5thAvenue look almost shabby.

Beccat refers to “two ‘terroirs’ that coexist to extract a third that stretches between two continents.” Ok – I agree that bit is somewhat pretentious, but I am sure written in the original French it was much less so – and whatever it means, he has created a wonderful fusion of the two cuisines in his two Michelin-starred restaurant.

Just have a look at my very amateurish I-phone photos to see art on a plate. Beautiful contrasting colours which, like all great cooking, are a feast for the eye before being a treat for the palate. Japanese minimalism yet anything but simple in the creation and the serving.

My favourite work of art was the beautiful appetiser – a mix of silky subtle cream cheese, sea urchin and pea puree.

I asked the head waiter to write down the ingredients for the fish course and his words demonstrate how well the two ‘terroirs’ coexist on a plate.

“Sauteed managatsuo fish served with a white wine sauce with yugeiokan (citrus), cauliflore (variety of cauliflower), Tsubomina (root). Caramelised onions with citrus oil. And origami of beetroot stuffed with cream of grape.”

 “Origami of beetroot with a cream of grape.”Says it all about this Chef’s creativity and his cultural inspirations.

The pigeon that followed was the tenderest either of us have ever tasted. And the meal ended with two puds – one a birthday treat for Mrs AG.


Needless to say – but I will because the whole purpose of the meal could otherwise get lost in pomposity – it was delicious. A special treat for a special birthday.

As ever with Japan – lunch can offer very good value and this set menu was Y11,000 a head (about £75) – considerably less than you would pay in London or Tokyo for an equivalent meal. Fortunately, I was able to pay for it with cash from my first pay packet in my new profession as an English teacher – but that’s a story for another place!

Tomorrow, blizzards permitting, we head for Hokkaido and the annual snow and ice festival. Hokkaido has a wonderful and different eating culture with great emphasis on seafood including its famous giant crabs. I shall be on the lookout for more tasting experiences with which to tantalise my taste buds and, hopefully, yours a little as well.

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