I apologise to the owners of the Korean restaurant we went to for lunch, who have probably been glued to this blog in anticipation of their big moment. As it happens, I am going to skip it altogether because something very much more exciting happened in the evening – we went to Aronia de Takazawa.
It is the best restaurant I have ever been to in my life by a mile. It has unbelievable reviews from the blogs and articles that I have read, and a random newspaper article was actually how we found out about it in the first place. Some in the know consider it one of the best restaurants in the world, which seems perfectly likely to me (one not in the know), judging from our mind-blowing experience. It blows something of a hole in your wallet as well, but it is entirely worth it.
It has only two tables, and is set up like the restaurant equivalent of a Japanese tea ceremony, where the chef can attend to the individual needs of everyone in his restaurant, and ensure that each experience is personally perfect. The front of house is run by his wife, while chef Takazawa runs the food from his workstation in between the kitchen and the main room. Service is chatty and knowledgeable as you would expect but the real star is the unbelievable and astonishing food. The toilet is pretty cool too but I think the food just edges it.
These were some fun things to start with. On the right are potato soup spheres with white truffle – it’s some feat of engineering to create three little pearls on a spoon that then turn into pure potato soup in your mouth – delicious (note – I am already running out of superlatives, where’s my thesaurus?). In the middle is gingko nut, another kind of potato and a bit of fish liver, and on the left are some special cured meats.
This is Takazawa’s signature dish – 15 different vegetables prepared individually and combined into one stunning mouthful. This dish takes something like 9 hours to put together, as each vegetable is treated to bring out its best. The result is so interesting – it takes about 15 bites to eat and it feels like each bite gives you the essence of a different one of the vegetables. This dish is stimulating in so many ways – visually incredible, fascinating to think about and a challenge to eat in one mouthful!
Freshly baked (in front of us) bread with homemade pate in a cute little jar with an Aronia de Takazawa label. Nice touch.
2. Buri Daikon
Quite possibly the most beautiful plate of food I have ever been served. It’s a clever one if you’re Japanese, as buri daikon is a traditional stew dish of buri (yellowtail) simmered with daikon (radish). This is obviously completely different – a fresh salad of raw buri, and some different types and colours of daikon. The magic touch for me was the yuzu powder that chef Takazawa sprinkled on himself at the table; it gave a lovely, theatrical, citrussy edge to an incredible dish.
3. Ankimo Marble
Yet another absolute stunner. As an aside, at some point around here I think I went into a speechless wonder spell, where I just gawped around the room at the crazy brilliance of the whole thing. Ankimo is monkfish liver, which is quite rich, paired with some porcini mushrooms for balance, plus some marinated leeks, Japanese balsamic vinegar and pine nuts. This was one of my favourites actually – a totally new ingredient for me given the magic treatment, and served, of course, on a slab of marble – why not?
This is the one we’ve talked about the most – clever clever. So, the candleholder is glass, and we were asked to lift the top off…
The lid of the candleholder turned out to be filled with a foie gras creme brulee, and the tea light was pear jam with a little “wick” of a herb. Now I don’t always like foie gras too much – the taste never seems to outweigh the guilt, but this time it certainly did. Awesome.
5. Breakfast with White Diamond
There may have been a Lost in Translation moment here, but I’m not totally sure what the White Diamond reference was. Breakfast was clear enough – we had little potato flakes which came to the party as a bowl of cornflakes. In the bowl was guinea fowl soup (?) with truffle, and the instruction was to tip the cornflakes into the bowl and enjoy it like cereal. This course was fun.
6a. More bread
Mental note – when Mr or Mrs Takazawa offer you something, you take it. I was on the verge of declining more bread but changed my mind at the last minute, and this is what turned up! I don’t even know what it was but it was very cool, with its little Takazawa logo on and some sort of coal dust (that can’t be right) ingredient.
6. Early Spring
Less of the cleverness, more of the food philosophy on this one. It was something like sea bass served with vegetables sourced from warmer parts of Japan that were beginning to produce the spring crops. Takazawa is all about the local sourcing and using clever and seasonal ingredients so this was a nice representation of that. A hilarious and unexpected chopstick crisis ensued towards the end – picking up a flat bean in a soupy bowl turned out to be a massive challenge.
7. EZO-Venison with tree
So that there on the top right is a Christmas Tree. How festive! The green smear (there must be a better word than that) was green vegetable, the red one was beetroot, the venison was totally wonderful and came with loads of tasty fat (apparently the chef’s favourite bit). This was a wonderful plate of food – although I did hit a momentary “too much food” wall half way through which stepped on my enjoyment of it ever so slightly. Oh yeah – and the snowball was a little bit of horseradish!
8. Takazawa’s Special Blue Cheese
Ha ha – it’s not blue cheese at all! It’s white chocolate and pistachio cheesecake. But how much does it look like blue cheese?! Another signature move – I think he varies the style and content but it looks like there’s always a cheese = cheesecake event on his menu.
9. Strawberry Short Cake
This was a spectacular liquid nitrogen-fest, with the box lined with strawberries filled with the gas, plus some icecream and frozen whipped cream.
The theatre and presentation of this dish was ridiculous(ly cool) but it was a slight anticlimax taste-wise. The effect of the strawberries, ice cream and frozen cream was supposed to be like having a mouthful of strawberry shortcake… meh, it was nice but not my favourite.
10. And finally…
Somehow we had room to have these lovely extra bits – they were a coconut meringue, melty salty dark chocolate, green tea cakes, and marshmallow. And I also had one of the nicest cups of tea I’ve ever had; we got to choose from the selection and I chose Happy Tea – must have been a reflection of the complexities of my mood at the time.
How lucky we felt, to have been treated to such an extraordinary evening by a young (he’s 35) genius. On top of masterminding all this, he also cleared our plates when he was the nearest, and when it was time to leave he walked us downstairs and out of the building, bowing to us until we reached the end of the road and turned out of sight.