Tokyo has no shortage of high quality Japanese restaurants but rather inconveniently, most of them only offer full-course menus, complete with dessert.
The problem with set courses, though, is not just that some of us, myself included, end up eating much more than we would like to. Because portions tend to be of identical size in any professional restaurant, regardless of whether the guest is a big or small eater, this practically guarantees that some food will be wasted. And that, to me, is a great pity.
So, I was both delighted and relieved to come across Kafuka in Azabu Juban, where the cuisine is not only sophisticated and imaginative but also available á la carte.
Daisuke Miyashita, the proprietor of Kafuka, is well known in the industry for another restaurant he started many years ago, also in Juban, called Kurayamizaka Miyashita.
His new venture is quite different from his more formal flagship.
For one thing, the proprietor himself acts as general manager at Kafuka, and a very friendly and helpful one at that.
Kafuka also holds various events, like cooking lessons and wine-tastings.
On a recent visit, Miyashita explained that he started Kafuka because he wanted to re-think what really defines washoku, or Japanese cuisine. Given the eclecticism of contemporary cooking, this seems a reasonable question to pose.
The lack of certainty he is grappling with is reflected in his choice of the name, Kafuka, which seems to refer to the author, Franz Kafka, but is actually a combination of the Japanese characters for “possible” and “not possible.” It refers to the ambiguous space between what is and is not possible, Miyashita explained.
The food served at Kafuka certainly stretches the definition of Japanese cuisine. While some of the dishes could easily fit into a traditional kaiseki (multi-course) meal, others are decidedly non-traditional.
On the night we visited, despite my reservations about multi-course set meals, I decided to try the Y6,000 tasting menu, as I wanted a good idea of what Kafuka had to offer.
The first course was a small cup of hot gobo, or burdock root, soup, which was creamy but not heavy, and very aromatic. Burdock has a distinctive and very pleasant aroma and is a common ingredient in Japanese cooking.
But I was sure I could smell something other than burdock in the soup. It turns out that the soup was garnished with a few drops of truffle oil, which, together with the cream, turned the common burdock in traditional Japanese cuisine into something altogether different. Although purists may scoff at the use of truffle oil, rather than actual truffles, its addition made for a striking and tasty combination.
The next dish was a more traditional ohitashi of vegetables and mirugai (geoduck clam) lightly blanched and soaked in a dashi broth. What was unusual was the purple hue of the broth. The unexpected color was the work of one of the vegetables used to make the soup — kinjisou, a green and purple leafy vegetable of the chrysanthemum family.
Although the dish was just slightly too salty for my taste, the fresh aroma of yuzu citrus peel more than compensated for that small blip.
The otsukuri, or sashimi dish, was mackerel and was one of the highlights of the meal. The generous slices of mackerel were seasoned with a sauce of shallots and sesame, which worked very well combined with gossamer-thin slices of gourd and topped with very finely shredded hime negi (leek sprouts).
Another interesting dish, which combined Japanese and non-Japanese ingredients to delicious effect, was the grilled radish, topped with mullet roe and cheese. The addition of a small slice of mullet roe on each of the cheese-encrusted radish pieces gave the dish a splash of color and enhanced the overall flavor.
The second highlight of the meal was the owan, or clear soup. The owan is usually a soup of dashi broth with a bit of seafood, vegetables or tofu. But unusually, Kafuka’s owan that evening was a clear soup with a chunk of beef tendon and a slab of ebi-imo, a kind of taro.
This was much more delicious than it may sound. The beef was very tender and the dashi was delicate yet aromatic.
The main course was a rather more mundane western-style dish of Duroc pork garnished with Tasmanian mustard on a bed of apple purée with sides of spinach, leek and red and yellow beet. The only Japanese touch was the dash of wasabi in the apple purée.
By the time we were served the final dish of rice cooked with large chunks of local oysters, I was completely full. But I managed to try a small serving, and enjoyed the soft, moist and flavorful rice.
I left Kafuka satiated and happy in the knowledge that next time, I could choose from the á la carte menu and not feel guilty about eating too much or relegating some very fine food to the dustbin.
Address : 2F Azabu 275
2-7-14 Azabu Jyuban
Tel : 03-5439-6395
Website : http://kafuka-tokyo.co.jp/
Dinner : Courses – Y6,000, Y8,000
Á la carte – from Y500 for a plate of pickles to Y3,400 for a plate of roast duck (250g) with grilled pearl onions
Closed : Sundays