Ever since the world woke up to the delights of Japanese cuisine, many western chefs have begun incorporating Japanese ingredients and ways of preparing food into their own cooking.
It is no longer surprising to find wasabi, dashi (bonito stock) or yuzu (tangy citrus) in dishes served by creative French or Scandinavian chefs or to find sushi-like offerings on the menus of decidedly western food establishments.
The affection has been mutual, with more Japanese chefs, particularly those who have worked abroad, abandoning strictly traditional washoku, or Japanese cooking, for a more eclectic style.
Take Hideki Ii who opened Shirosaka, an elegant eatery that specializes in charcoal grilled dishes, just over a year ago on a quiet side-street in Akasaka.
Mr Ii previously worked at Tetsuya’s in Sydney, a popular restaurant that is often booked up months in advance where chef Tetsuya Wakuda serves Japanese-inspired French cuisine.
Although Shirosaka is, without doubt, a Japanese restaurant, many of the dishes skillfully and beautifully prepared by Chef Ii are a creative interpretation of both Japanese and western cuisines.
The Y7,800 course we ordered on a recent visit began with a selection of shellfish and jyunsai, an aquatic plant known as “water shield” in English, marinated in fresh coriander oil – a rather unusual combination, which made for a refreshing summer dish.
The next course was an artistic arrangement of a tiny cup of yuba (beancurd skin) with uni (sea urchin), a miniature sushi roll, and ayu (sweet fish) rolled in shiso leaf and deep-fried, perfectly crisp, fried kisu (garfish) and soramame, or broad bean.
This was followed by Shirosaka’s signature dish, which came in a pale blonde wooden box decorated with a sprig of fresh green maple leaves. Like everything served at Shirosaka, the presentation was immaculate, with the slightly wet green leaves transporting us from a hot summer evening in Tokyo to the comfort of a cool forest somewhere far, far away.
Inside the wooden box was another curious arrangement – a ball of something deep-fried sitting on a bed of small pieces of aori ika (bigfin reef squid) and uni.
The deep-fried ball turned out to be mochi-gome (a sticky rice used to make rice cakes). Inside was a bright yellow quail’s egg, sitting on a bed of dashi gelée and flanked by small black round things, which looked like caviar, but were in fact smoked nishin (herring) eggs.
Then came a cold corn soup topped with a slice of grilled corn. Although this dish is commonly served at Japanese restaurants in the summer, Chef Ii’s version stood out for the contrast between the sweetness of the soup and the pungency of the grilled corn, which was outstanding.
For the first main course, we were served yet another unusual dish of tachi-uo (cutlassfish) and kujyo negi（a long green onion often used in Kyoto cuisine) in a sesame oil known as Tashiro goma abura. Unlike regular goma abura, or sesame oil, this oil uses sesame that is not roasted and is clear in color, providing a lighter oiliness to dishes. The sesame oil helped to spice up the tachi-uo, which is so light that depending on how it is presented it can seem rather bland.
The meat course was grilled chicken from Kagoshima, in southwestern Japan, topped with thinly sliced mushrooms and a touch of truffle oil. The chicken was very tender and crisp, highlighting the benefits of charcoal-grilling.
The main part of the meal closed with a serving of rice topped with charcoal-grilled slices of iwashi (sardine) and a sprinkling of shirasu (whitebait).
The first of two dessert dishes was a delicious lime sorbet in sake, which would also have done very well as a palate freshener.
This was followed by Chef Ii’s take on a traditional Japanese sweet – monaka, which is usually made with sweet adzuki bean paste sandwiched in very thin crackers made from mochi rice. Chef Ii added a very thin slice of shiratama, a rice flour dumpling, and a sampling of fresh strawberries, blueberries and raspberries as well as raspberry ice cream to the mix.
Shirosaka, which means white hill, is a name that was coined as a play on the location of the restaurant – Akasaka, or red hill. In Japan, the combination of the colors red and white is considered auspicious and is used for festive occasions.
But there is no need for a festive excuse to dine at Shirosaka, where Chef Ii’s creative cuisine is itself an occasion to celebrate.
Chef Ii is a man with culinary focus and distinctive ideas – even so, he proved accommodating on another visit, when asked to prepare a menu with no meat, adds Gwen Robinson. He produced excellent fish and seafood dishes, all with his signature style, combining traditional ideas with creative twists.
The fresh, thoughtful approach to food at Shirosaka is also reflected in the small but light, airy environment of wood and glass. A long low L-shaped counter accommodates about 10 diners, and a small side room could hold perhaps a party of six.
Although the prices here are extremely reasonable, one can tell that Chef Ii wants to keep it that way, to make the place accessible to all who want a fine dining experience that is both rewarding and just a bit out of the ordinary.
Address : 6-3-9 Akasaka,
Tel : 03-5797-7066
Website : https://www.facebook.com/shirosaka.akasaka/
Dinner : 17:30-23:00
Closed : Sundays
Dinner courses : Y7,800~