Japan and especially Tokyo, has the most number of Michelin starred restaurants in the world (226 just in Tokyo) – I kid you not! The level of finesse, devotion, care and creativity that goes into their craft of making incredible tasting food is undeniable.
In some of my previous posts, I have written about Japanese food being my favourite cuisine to eat and cook. Why? I just adore the simplicity of the flavours, the freshness of the ingredients and the precision in the cooking. And of course, with the exception of the sweets the focus on seasonality and health is paramount in Japanese cooking.
Enter Esaki, a three starred Michelin player that has held it’s stars/ratings for the last 6 over years – and it’s so exciting for the value conscious consumer (Singaporean in me) to reveal that Esaki has such an affordable lunch option held on Saturdays at 5,500 yen (you got to be sure to book at least 1.5 months in advance). The elite rest of the bunch, I’ve been to Ishikawa and Kanda so far and the menus range from 15000 to 35000 yen.
This July in my most anticipated trip (partly becoz of the July summer bargains) and yet another trip to the ‘world’s best food city’ as named by Saveur magazine I made sure to get a reservation at Aoyoma Esaki. Esaki is famous for its interpretation of modern kaiseki style food (traditional multi course Japanese meal), and it’s also one of the few Michelin starred places to use lots of organic vegetables in it’s courses. In fact, the enthralling, divine little dessert served at the end was asparagus ice cream – hope you get the drift.
Also, if you are used to very heavy seasoning, I must say that Esaki’s Chef, Shintaro Esaki has a light and deft hand – the dishes showcase beautifully, intricately prepared sometimes deconstructed vegetable/dish pairings with fish/chicken. I recognised the vegetables mainly because of the taste, some were cleverly disguised to perhaps trick your eyes into believing it was something you had eaten before, till you actually ate it – so there was that element of surprise.
Me with the handwritten menu see the adorable yet elegant food caricatures!
I was unable to make out the menu in Japanese there was no English menu so this is what I pieced together based on what I ate and the short introduction we got before each dish was served. The menu changes with the seasons so expect to try something different the next time.
Course 1 – seasonal vegetable medley
These summer vegetables with battered fried fish and sushi uni (sea urchin)was all about textures and tantalizing the taste buds, the lady’s fingers so smooth, the tomatoes tart and punchy with a sour plum mango dressing, the green pepper provided a little heat and the sushi uni was a flavour explosion of sweet, salty and creamy – you could taste the rice pearls which was cooked to perfection!
Course 2 – raw fish with winter melon
I was told this was a striped jack white fish, it had this muscular springy texture, it was superbly fresh and sweet the fish and the winter melon was a clever palate cleanser so the fish didn’t feel or taste heavy each time it was dipped in the soya sauce.
Course 3 – ayu fish soup
This looked so much like mushroom soup, aha but it wasn’t! Made from a Japanese fish – ayu fish, it had a bitter, sweet, smoky delicious flavour it was really intriguing. Reminded me of mackerel made into soup actually!
Course 4 – white fish with watermelon, capsicum, shiso leaf dressing
A suzuki fish and suika pairing (translated to a type of white fish with shiso leaf) this was one of my favourites. The unexpected watermelon salsa with crunchy yellow peppers and shiso leaf with plum vinegared dressing was a real treat! I thought they were tomatoes and basil leaf at first – so tricky!
Course 5 – seasonal vegetable mixed rice with fish and chicken ball soup
The mini appetizer was a salad of beets, japanese cucumber and salted sardines. The mixed rice was with watercress and sea bream fish pieces. The chicken matzo looking ball was made from chicken and tofu ( I felt the chinese influences here) in clear soup. From my other kaiseki experiences, I have noticed that the soups are often clear with one or a couple of vivid, lovingly positioned ingredients (it’s almost as if the ingredients are floating in the soup to that effect) – I wonder if there is a reason for that, maybe I will find out eventually as I eat my way through more kaiseki meals?
Tea – japanese perilla leaf tea
This is Japanese perilla leaf tea – of the mint family of teas also known as shiso leaf tea. Apparently the perilla leafs character “su” in Japanese means comfort, and this tea is exactly that.
Dessert – Monaka asparagus ice cream with blueberry and red beans
This was my hubby’s favourite course! It was mind blowing the monaka asparagus ice cream that was sandwiched in between a bed of red beans, blueberries and melons, topped with a brown sugar sauce. It was refreshingly light, crisp, candied and cool! I went away dreaming of the day I’d get to eat this dessert again!!!
This meal was eaten on the 23 July, 2016 in the height of a hot Japanese summer.
On that note – I’m going to end with a quote by Anna Thomas.
“We all eat, and it would be a sad waste of opportunity to eat badly.” Anna Thomas
Here’s Esaki’s booking information:
Lunch pricing 5,500 yen – Saturday lunch only
Address: Hills aoyama B1, 3-39-9 Jingu-mae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Telephone: 03 3408 5056
Home page: http://aoyamaesaki.net/(in Japanese)
Tip for reservations: If you are able to get your hotel in Japan to help you that will be the easiest way to book Esaki in advance.