Kaiseki dinners are traditional Japanese tasting menus, and it is the inspiration for all the new fancy tasting menus that you see out there (and David and I love). So, it was a must do for us in Japan.
Often, Kaiseki meals are prepared at traditional Ryokans (like bed and breakfast inns in Japan). We were lucky to have a lovely Japanese restaurant right in our hotel – Kakou – at the Hyatt Regency in Shinjuku.
The moment we entered, we were transported to another place and time. The lovely servers were donned in kimonos, and the restaurant was quiet and simply elegant. The service the entire night was fantastic. It began with a hot sake and our choice of small sake glasses (fun).
Our meal began with an appetizer of shimeji mushroom, crab and tofu with steamed abalone, and a white gourd melon with miso and mustard vinegar, served with an aperitif of cold sake. It was a perfect pairing of sweet and creamy crab with a tangy and fresh melon and miso. Delightful!
Our second appetizer took our breath away! It arrived on a special shelf, with a number of amazing and beautiful bites to savour! It included: duck roast and fig, grilled taro with urchin, yuba dumplings and fish meat, braised shrimp, herring spawn on kelp, braised herring, turnip with miso, green soy beans, salmon rolled daikon radish and maple-shaped taro. Truly spectacular and incredibly unique flavours.
The soup course was the biggest hit of the night for David and I. Perfect in its simplicity, with incredibly deep flavour. The suimono Japanese clear soup was an umami bomb of mushroomy broth, conger fish, matsutake mushroom, lily bulb, and Japanese hornwort. It came in a tea pot, that you pour little by little into the lid (a small bowl). It forced us to slow down and really take in the flavours of the clear soup, and pick up the bits left behind in the tea pot. Heaven.
The sashimi course came with four sashimi bites – two white fish, one tuna and a lobster tail filled with small bits of tuna. The lobster was pink and very new to us, and we loved it!
The grilled course was a grilled barracuda with herb, Japanese ginger root, a small bit of salmon roe and daikon radish. It was fresh and simple, and the salmon roe gave some real tang and brightness.
A steamed dish of tilefish with sake and braised turnip cabbage, scallion, carrot, ginger and kudzu (a Japanese mountainous plant). The fish was well-steamed, and we really liked the kudzu.
The main dish was a beef steak, deep fried lots roots and pumpkin service with maitake mushroom and onion sauce. The onion sauce on the side was absolutely delicious, the beef melted in our mouths and the pumpkin (more like squash) was in a light and lovely tempura.
Believe it or not, a rice dish followed. I was pretty full by now, but the steamed rice, cooked in a stone pot with a tomato miso was really delicious (including the surprise of meat and veggies in the rice). As the rice sat, it got crispier in the hot stone pot (something we both love).
Our dessert was blessedly light, with small rice cakes with beans and the most wonderful fresh fruit (including the largest grapes we have ever seen).
As we let the dinner settle over a pot of traditional matcha tea, we marvelled at the meal. It was truly amazing and special, and gave us a taste of traditional Japan that we really wanted to experience. Thank you Kakou!