Tokyo

Akasaka Kikunoi, Tokyo (**)

How this meal came about is a somewhat amusing story. I was trying to get a lunch reservation at Les Creations de Narisawa, unfortunately, they refused to take solo diners, and because I did not have a dining partner, I decided to try my luck on the Chowhound forums. I didn’t have particularly high hopes, but I did get some amusing replies as you will see below. Eventually, I did manage to link up with Asomaniac, but he didn’t have very kind things to say about Les Creations, and so after bouncing a few ideas around, we landed on Akasaka Kikunoi.

The original Kikunoi is a 3 michelin starred restaurant in Kyoto, Akasaka is their only branch in Tokyo, but it stays true to its Kyoto roots, serving up Kyoto cuisine in a Kaiseiki style. I am only familiar with their food from the food blog: www.sfreelife.com, seeing as to how they seem to know their food in Japan, as well as their rating as Akasaka Kikunoi as their favourite restaurant in the world, I had high hopes for the restaurant.

Nothing suspicious going on here

Starting platter

A simple platter of fresh vegetables and seafood, cooked simply(steamed?). The ebi was the only thing that stood out for me. Some of the vegetables had a rather unpleasant mushy texture. Bad

               

Tai(sea bream) and flounder(hirame)

The flounder was served with a gelee of ponzu, it was an absolute delight to eat. The gelee negated the need for any kind of soya sauce or wasabi, it was an intelligent and elegant way to serve the sashimi. Ponzu gelee had an incredible aroma, the yuzu helped to tone down the ‘saltiness’ of the soya, it gave the dish a very fresh mouthfeel. The letdown was the tai, it was chewy to the point where it simply did not want to break down in the mouth, plus it was way too stringy, bad enough to pull the overall dish down drastically. Okay-Good

               

Chutoro with mustard, egg yolk-soya dipping sauce

The egg yolk was soaked in soya sauce for two days and took on a very viscous, rich texture. The Chutoro with the mustard itself wasn’t spectacular, the heat of the mustard gave the sashimi a similar taste to wasabi, but with a different kind of smell, the dipping sauce helped to elevate the richness of the fish to new levels. Okay

             

Sakura leaves, Sakura flowers, Amadei

This was served in a thick, starchy, stock. The amadei was nicely cooked, sitting on a bed of glutinous rice, the Sakura added another element of aromatics to the dish, but I didn’t enjoy the consistency of the stock. It tasted too.. subtle to have that kind of thick consistency, think of eating a stew with very muted down flavors. Okay

                   

Grilled tofu with miso, grilled bamboo with pureed Japanese aromatics

The miso had a perfect tiny crust, but the the crux of the dish was it’s unbelievably complex flavor, it was surprisingly sweet, yet it retained that inherent salty bean flavor that you get in all miso, it complimented the soft, moist tofu perfectly. The bamboo didn’t do to shabbily either, it was very juicy, literally having to pull away because it was leaking so much juices after biting into it. The Japanese herb perfumed the dish nicely but left a slight tinge on the tongue, the only way I can describe it is a hybrid between mint and pepper. This was one of the best dishes I’ve had in recent memory. Superb

                         

Japanese mountain yam with seaweed

This was a dish grounded in one texture, a very slimy one. The mountain yam, or nagaimo, had a very crunchy texture covered in a sticky slime. The seaweed had a tinge of acidity(vinegar?) that gave it a wonderful refreshing quality, it also had a somewhat slimy consistency, the crunch from the yam gave the dish a nice textural contrast. Okay

 

Icefish, Kombu

You are basically served raw icefish, meant to be dipped into a kombu stock to cook. The fish had a very subtle flavor, with a nice soft texture that made it quite addictive, especially after being dipped into the accompanying ponzu sauce. There was a gelatinous block made of miso and sesame, simmering in the kombu, it didnt taste of much but had a strong aroma of sesame. Light flavors and not very substantial. Okay

Bamboo steamed rice

The rice took on the juices of the bamboo and gave it a subtle, earthy sweetness. The bamboo was cooked to a point where it still retained a nice bite, which contrasted the soft rice beautifully. It was good enough that I had a second bowl, and I was pretty full at this point. The edamame soup puree could’ve been better executed, it was blended with dashi stock; which made for an interesting combination, but I felt that the flavors seemed to clash, I would’ve preferred a stronger edamame taste, and slightly more viscosity. Good

Almond tofu, basil puree, tadpole eggs(?)

The almond tofu had a less brittle consistency than I’m used to, it was soft but had a more ‘meaty’ texture, similar to a custard. The almond paired nicely with the basil and it was a very refreshing end to the meal. The ‘tadpole eggs’, a component that features in a lot of Singaporean desserts, were more crunchy and had a better bite than those I’ve eaten in Singapore. Good-Very Good

My lunch at Akasaka Kikunoi was a little underwhelming. Its hard to fault most of the dishes, but save the grilled tofu dish, everything was forgettable. The restaurant serves predominantly  traditional kaiseki type food, but there are some updated ideas that I felt were pretty innovative, like the ponzu gelee. There is a strong emphasis on seasonal ingredients, like the bamboo, usually cooked simply to retain the natural flavors, but a little more needs to be done to elevate some of it.

Service was impeccable, not much English is spoken, but they do have a large recipe book that they bring out where you get an accurate description of each dish.  Sitting at the bar, you get the full view of a team of 4-5 chefs plating dishes for the entire restaurant. There is an air of serenity about the restaurant, to the garden leading up to the restaurant, the wooden furniture, the impeccably laid out cutlery; while that in itself is quite an experience, don’t go to the restaurant with too high hopes for the food.

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