Kadowaki **, Tokyo
Kadowaki , Azubu-Juban
Japanese Kaiseki with a twist.
Back in 2008, Kadowaki shot to world-wide fame with the arrival of Michelin Guide in Tokyo, albeit with a totally different reason :
Toshiya Kadowaki, owner of Azabu Kadowaki, turned down the chance to appear in Michelin’s Tokyo guide. He can serve only 21 covers in his small restaurant and did not wish to attract tourists.
He said: “Imagine if I went to Paris and started pronouncing upon the food served in French restaurants. The French either wouldn’t take me seriously or they wouldn’t be very happy. Well I don’t think Michelin should do the same here in Japan. Who are they to judge my food and decide if I am worthy of one, two or three stars — or no stars at all?”
However, humble pie was swallowed a year later and Kadowaki relented -we suspect it had to do with the Michelin craze that swept Japan after it was named the gastronomy capital of the world, beating our Paris. 2 stars were duly bestowed on the restaurant.
Kadowaki is also famed for being one of the toughest reservation in Tokyo. We were offered only the 10pm slot which means finishing the meal way past midnight – we decided to go for it and it was probably the wisest decision we made!
In a nutshell, KADOWAKI HAS TO BE A 3 STAR RESTAURANT. Course after course, we were served some of the very best cooking+ingredient combination we had anywhere in Japan , or probably even in the world. This is not the usual Kaiseki we’ve had before – there were a few clever injections of ‘western’ ingredients like Truffle and Foei Gras. Essentially, we have no problem with ‘traditional’ restaurants trying something ‘brave’ as long as it ‘works’ and , more importantly, diners could appreciate why these ingredients were used. There’s always a place and time to break away from traditions – it just has to ‘make sense’ and not done ‘for the sake of trying to be different’.
3 particular courses stood out (for injecting western ingredients into traditional Japanese dish):
1) squid-ink powder with crab Chawan-Mushi ,
2) Foie Gras Zaru-Soba
3) Black Truffle Rice
And yes, these were some of the best dishes we’ve ever tasted. All the clever use of western produce indeed lit up the courses. The savory egg custard, for example, were almost match made in heaven with the squid ink -equally sexy! The foie gras added a slimy, tangible texture to the typical dipping sauce for cold Soba – a similar concept derived from Japanese way of adding TORORO or grated yama-imo (Japanese mountain yam) to the Soba – the foei gras just tasted that much better! As for black truffle with Japanese rice in the stone-bowl, it works because the truffle is essentially ‘tasteless’ but ‘aromatic’ , exactly the way the rice course finale in a kaiseki should taste. Because the rice comes after so many courses, the ‘underwhelming’ taste of it brings the whole kaiseki journey ‘back in a full circle’ – it usually progresses with light, cold, bland appetizer -> heavy , warm, umami-rich mains -> finishing with the rice course with pickle and soup. Heavenly!
One further dish was also vivid in our memory – FUGU Sashimi. Needless to say, the FUGU itself was as good as we’ve tasted anywhere including Fugu-kaiseki restaurants; the Picasso-touch was however, in adding ANKIMO to the PONZU dipping sauce. WOW!! Our favorite seasonal monkfish-liver which is usually eaten with Ponzu sauce now reverses its role and becomes a condiment to the vinegar which is then used to dip the FUGU ( typically tasteless but chewy) – so what you actually get is the texture of Fugu, the sourness of Ponzu, the savory taste of Ankimo and the aroma of some spring onions – GENIUS!
Beyond masterful cooking, the generous use of ingredients was also outstanding. We’ve had Ankimo, Fugu, Foie Gras, Truffle, some highly-prized mushrooms and garden vegetables when the owner brought the whole MATSUBA KANI (the ‘can’t miss crab of the winter season) to our table. This whole crab was then extracted of its most delicious parts and forms 1 single course. It’s almost too good to be true – compare this to YUKIMURA (3 star Kaiseki 5 minutes away from Kadowaki ) for which the whole dinner was essential a ‘crab-dinner’ where every part of the 1 whole crab is served course-by-course and pretty much nothing else, for a higher price.
Not only was the food perfect, the restaurant also has some of the ‘michelin touch’ like ‘live cooking’ by the owner chef , the ‘at the table’ Kampachi Shabu Shabu , which was umami-overloaded and some ‘off the menu’ surprise but delightful courses.
There were probably more ‘memorable’ aspects of the meal but at this point, we had already given it the best rating we could – a sure 3 stars! (here’s just a curious thought : was the 3rd star deducted for attacking the guide way back in 2008?? )