As a young chef, Hiromitsu Nozaki, proprietor and head chef of Waketokuyama, which specializes in kaiseki or Japanese haute-cuisine, trained at various traditional restaurants, including one that specialized in fugu, or blow fish.
His background, however, provides no clue to Mr Nozaki’s spectacular success since setting out on his own, with three restaurants under his wing, countless TV appearances and dozens of books to his name. He has even written a book on how to prepare Japanese baby food.
Mr Nozaki’s main restaurant, in the affluent Tokyo district of Hiroo, has two Michelin stars, and on a recent visit we were able to enjoy the charming service and exquisitely prepared dishes that have given Waketokuyama a reputation as one of the best contemporary Japanese restaurants in town.
As befits its fashionable location, the restaurant is appropriately stylish. Its elegant interior was designed by Takashi Sugimoto’s internationally renowned design firm, Super Potato, and the exterior by world-famous architect, Kengo Kuma.
Dinner on the evening of our visit began with an appetizer of crab in a gélee of dashi broth and chrysanthemum petals decorated to evoke an autumnal scene. The dish was light but full of delicate flavors.
Then came a plate of several small appetizers, known as hassun in “kaiseki speak,” including slices of salmon sashimi and salmon roe topped with tonburi (kochia seed), a piece of kamasu (barracuda) broiled in a sweet and savory sauce, a small serving of sea urchin and monkfish liver wrapped in a thin crust and a bit of sweet fish with roe.
The next course was a generous and beautiful arrangement of sashimi – plump amaebi (sweet shrimp), mirugai (trough shellfish) and hirame (sole).
This was followed by more small servings of seasonal ingredients, such as yurine, or lily bulb, and mukago, or bulbils, which are tiny bulbs of yam with a potato-like texture.
After having consumed enough food to make most of us feel replete, we were presented with a whole abalone topped with a generous heap of wakame seaweed. This Waketokuyama specialty may be a treat for abalone lovers, but perhaps a little overwhelming for the average diner.
For me, the highlight of the meal was the owan, or clear soup. Inside the soup was an oyster that had been steamed, dried and then wrapped in sakura-mochi rice. This was accompanied by a boiled chestnut, a slice of carrot beautifully carved into a flower shape and thin threads of leek. It was pure bliss.
The final course before dessert – rice cooked in a donabe (earthen bowl) and topped with a mound of flavorful matsutake mushrooms and fresh mitsuba (wild chervil) – elicited joyous surprise from our group as we found fresh appetite.
The rice was cooked to perfection. Still, there was so much of it left over that we were each able to take home an onigiri rice ball, carefully wrapped in plastic, for a gourmet breakfast.
Although most of us claimed to be too full for dessert, the tofu pudding topped with finely diced fruit was irresistible.
If there is one problem I have with Waketokuyama, it is the enormous amount of food that comprises the Y16,200 dinner course. Those who are not big eaters of abalone and other shellfish should warn the restaurant in advance, as it seems to be a Waketokuyama specialty.
Address : 5-1-5 Minami-Azabu
Phone : 5789-3838
Dinner : 17:00-23:00
Closed : Sundays
Dinner Course : Y16,200