The next day, we checked out Giles’s restaurant for lunch. The chef he’s working with is also young (40, max) and has a good sense of humour. He kept calling himself Obi One in reference to training Giles up 🙂
Nakazen is a traditional Kyoto-style kaiseki restaurant, which features a number of small dishes. You start with a appetizer dish of some kind, then sashimi, then a variety of small bites dish, then a cooked fish, then a grilled one, a soup, and finally a rice dish, before dessert. The number of dishes varies and all ingredients are focused on whatever season it is, meaning that we got lots of fighead ferns, broadbeans, seabream, and baby octopus in our various kaiseki meals in Japan.
Another focus in kaiseki cuisine is the tablewear. The small dishes used in the meals are changed every month, as they typically relate to the specific month. Being in Japan in March, the dishes that we used were mostly tied to Girl’s Day (March 3rd), and therefore contained flicks of gold.
We started lunch with a dashi gelee – it was an ichiban (basic) dashi with kuzu starch (giving it the gelee texture), steamed eel, and ume plum in seaweed. Very gelatinous with a subtle flavour, pretty nice!
After this, we had sashimi with rainbow radish, fresh wasabi, some salt, and daitokuchi nato (for those of you who don’t know nato, its fermented mung beans… and has a very strong taste, which worked nicely with the subtle fish). The fish was tai, which is similar to a snapper… and absolutely delicious.
After this, a second sashimi dish of Spanish mackerel and Harika squid, served with karami daikon (a hot radish that takes kind of like horseradish) and bonito-flavoured soy sauce. The squid was like none I’d had before, not rubbery or with a film on the outside of it, just very smooth and soft. Yum
Then a delicious clam in broth… a hamaguri clam with egg uni (wow) in a dashi broth. This was served with kinome vegetables (only available in the month of March) and a sancho leaf. This was a really umami-flavoured broth with the dashi, and the clam gave it a nice earthy, fishy taste. The clam itself was bit and plump, and worked nicely with the bitter vegetables.
Then, the haizen course (or as they called it, surf and turf). This was the small bites course. We had fukanato fried mountain vegetables, octopus leg marinated in miso and tai roe, octopus, baby squid with all its roe, roka (a small, fried river fish), and nanahana greens (like small broccoli). The roe had no taste on the baby squid, but the octopus with the dried roe and the baby fish tasted really nice as well…
Then, the baby octopus (hot aruka, or moscardini, as you usually see them in Europe) with a strawberry tesazu (a soy/vinegar blend), a sweet white miso with mustard and vinegar, served with greens and leeks. This was also delicious, a tiny pot with all of these flavours inside that you could scoop up in two bites. the strawberry tesazu was unexpected, but a really nice constrast to the creamy miso.
Our pretty sake holder… was this carafe number two or three???
And then, a really nice surprise. This salmon looks basic, but it was over the top. It was roasted with a natural cherry salmon flavour, with an orange miso marinade, smoked on hickory… amazing. The sweetness of the salmon, perfectly cooked, was incredible. This was my favourite dish.
After this, we had our rice dish, which was cooked with lilybulbs (they almost have the consistency of yams) and mixed with small bits of seaweed.
Served after this was a wild herb miso soup, made with spinach and white miso. It had a little green dumpling, which reminded me of the weird lump that Michelle got in her udon soup in Tokyo… but this one just tasted herby and not too glutinous.
Both the rice and the soup were nice, not too flavourful or heavy after the large meal that we’d had, but just slightly different to the regular rice and soup that you typically get, making them interesting.
Finally, for dessert, an anko (red bean) jam with matcha green ice cream (made with soy beans) and strawberries. Simple, tasty, and a great way to finish off the meal.
And then a leisurely walk through the bamboo forest, just before the end of the day, when the light was just right!