Japan, Travel
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Aronia De Takazawa, Tokyo

Sometimes you have dinners, and sometimes you have experiences. I think it’s fair to say that at Aronia De Takazawa, I had an experience.

We had a week in Tokyo and we wanted to have at least one memorable meal which served food which was “thinking outside the square”. When we were in Hong Kong, we went to Joel Robuchon L’Atelier for lunch and while Linda loved it, I was left a little disappointed considering it cost the same as Quay or Tetsuya but lacked that element of knocking my socks off that I would expect from a Three Michelin Star institution which Robuchon is.

I did some research and had settled on L’osier which had received raving reviews. There is no coincidence it has Three Michelin Stars as well. A few days before we were due to arrive in Tokyo, L’osier called me to confirm my booking, only to tell me it was for Friday instead of Tuesday. I had no idea how they could mix up the day like that, a case of lost in translation at it’s finest. I couldn’t make the Friday because I wasn’t due to arrive until the next day, and as a result I lost my reservation because they were booked out for the next two months for both lunch and dinner.

While I was researching, I also found a few articles which spoke about Aronia De Takazawa. A restaurant which sits only eight people, two tables and a relatively young chef . He charges 24, 000 yen for an eleven course degustation, has no Michelin Stars, yet has a three-month waiting list. Surely this was suicide for my wallet ? I threw caution to the wind and submitted a reservation via email, received a reply saying they were booked out but I would be put on the waiting list. At this stage I decided that I couldn’t be bothered trying to get a reservation elsewhere and would rather save my money for other things. If I was successful on the waiting list, so be it. If not, I wouldn’t be too disappointed because the last thing I want is food to get in the way of me enjoying other parts of my holiday.

Oh and just a warning, this is quite a long post.

Funnily enough, I get an email on the Saturday I arrive in Tokyo from Akiko who is the wife of Chef and Owner Yoshiaki Takazawa. Someone cancelled and she could fit me in for dinner on a Tuesday night. I’ve read stories on how hard it is to get a booking, so I accepted despite the steep price for the 11 course meal for 24,000 yen ($285 AUD). Expectations were high, how good could it be ?

The Chef

What you see up there is one of his work stations in plain view for his customers. It’s a solid stainless steel bench, very easy and sharp on the eye. It’s almost as if he is putting on a show for the diner. He doesn’t cook everything on this work station, but does a few last touches to most the dishes. There are various salts still in rock form, the black one there is from a volcano from the Himalayas.

Now on to the Chef, Yoshiaki Takazawa. He’s in his mid 30′s, but looks like he is still in his 20′s. He’s worked at the Park Hyatt in Shinjuku, Tokyo and also as a private chef at a wedding house. Believe it or not, he’s also worked at a yakitori shop flipping chicken skewers over a charcoal grill. How he managed to not work or train overseas and still be able to churn out the type of food which I am going to show you in this post still amazes me. I guess some people are just born to cook and entertain and Mr Takazawa is one of them.

Degustation

Before I go on I must comment on the service, which was flawless. Akiko or her assistant would explain every dish, how it was made, where the ingredients were sourced from and how the dish is to be eaten. Some dishes even had a story behind them, such as Takazawa’s farm.

When Akiko mentioned the amuse bouche would be the first dish, I expected an oyster with some sort of dressing or something served in a shot glass eaten with a spoon, you know, the usual stuff we get at most restaurants. Instead, we got a massive tasting plate of several things. I had a feeling our dining experience would be a bit different that evening.

left to right : sea urchin, bear prosciutto, gorgonzola cheese sauce , seasonal cold vegetables

The key here is fresh and seasonal produce. Each item has a highlight ingredient. At the top left is the sea urchin, served on top of a jelly with fresh dill. To the top right is bear prosciutto, yes you read it right, bear. The bear is from Hokkaido, North of Japan and has a slight gamey taste but I wouldn’t have blinked an eye if I didn’t know it was bear. To contrast with the gameyness, it is served with a piece of sweet kumquat, nothing more and nothing less. The star of the show is the bear, and rightly so.

Finally there is a glass of crispy seasonal vegetables, with the purple cauliflower being quite eye catching. They taste naturally sweet and fresh, with a delicate crunch after each bite. It’s hard not to just stare at the vegetables, the colours were amazing. It was served with a pungent but creamy gorgonzola cheese sauce which tasted almost like a ranch sauce. The way the vegetables were eaten reminded me of great southern US dish of celery sticks and blue vein cheese sauce.

Left to right : bread w/ house made Pâté, Ratatoille, "Powdery dressing"

Shortly after our amuse bouche, Akiko brings out house made bread for us which is still piping hot when I rip it apart. Instead of butter, we are given house made pâté which comes in a cute little jar. The one thing you will notice about this place is the little touches, the finer details such as the little sticker which held the jar together. As with the bread, it was the best F*$%*!@ bread I’ve ever had. Crunchy, chewy, ever so slightly airy, it was perfect. The pâté was also sensational, a home-made mixture of Okinawa pork. It was very rich and creamy, I wanted to take the jar home but I couldn’t stop eating it. I ran out of bread and Linda told me to stop eating the bread in case I would get full. Instead, I asked for more bread and was stoked when Akiko said she would bring out a different type of bread for me to try.

To the top left is Takazawa’s signature dish, a ratatouille of 15 bright cubes of vegetable, each marinated in its own specific way, then constructed in the form of a mosaic. The dish takes the chef half a day to make, but takes me about half a minute to finish. We were told it is best eaten in one go, all the individual vegetables would work in unison in our mouths. I could taste different bursts of flavour and texture with each vegetable, a very interesting dish which seems like the only one which has featured on the menu since the restaurant opened in 2005.

Along the bottom of the photo above, we have the Fish with “powdery dressing”. After the dish arrived, chef Takazawa came out with a bowl of the powdery dressing which I was told is cooled to -200c to create the “powdery” effect. It’s lightly drizzled on top as I see a cloud of powder puff up as if I was watching a magic show. I can’t remember too much about the dish, but I do recall that it tasted quite nice partly due to how well the fresh fish and crunchy vegetables worked in unison.

Left to right : Entrance, house made bread, Mont Blanc, Ezoshika tar tar

Remember how I asked for more bread ? Akiko brought out some freshly baked chestnut bread, still moist with whole chestnuts inside. It is a slightly sweeter and softer bread, but still was ideal for spreading pâté onto.

To the bottom left is Tribute to mont blanc which the Japanese seems to have an obsession with, as I saw it in basically every cake shop. Chef Takazawa turned the traditional dessert into a savoury dish by replacing the cream and chestnut with foi gras. The top is drizzled with a pumpkin cream or puree. Foi gras and pumpkin are a great combination, it sounds a bit heavy but the richness of the foi gras really does contrast well with the sweetness of the pumpkin. This dish really did show his creativity in terms of interpreting a dessert into a savoury dish.

Ezoshiika tar tar (venison)

The ezoshika (Japanese deer) tar tar was in fact raw venison. I’ve never had raw venison before but found its taste to be similar to a beef carpaccio, but better. We were told that the venison was very fresh, straight off the back of the truck that morning and onto our plate that evening. In addition, the deer was also very young, hence how tender and delicate the meat was. Served with the venison was a crunchy seaweed biscuit and fresh sea urchin. The combination of all three ingredients was amazing, the crunch from the seaweed biscuit was the finishing touch the dish needed as well.

Pucchin pudding (sea urchin, pumpkin)

Takazawa once again puts his creative hat on with this savoury interpretation of a pucchin pudding, a Japanese dessert which is similar to a flan or creme caramel but sold in a plastic cup. Instead of making it sweet, he made it out of sea urchin and pumpkin. Rich, sweet and salty, I felt naughty eating it. Who would have thought pumpkin could go with sea urchin ? Once again, it’s the fresh regional ingredient of the sea urchin which is the key to the success of this dish.

Takazawa's Farm

Another creative dish is the “Takazawa Farm”. He explained that one day he would like to own his own farm, so he can grow his own vegetables, raise his own chickens and make his own milk. The farm is Chef Takazawa trying to depict his ideal farm in the future. It was just amazing to see the thought behind the dish, not just the creativity behind the ‘vegetables’, ‘milk’ and ‘eggs’, but also the effort he put in to draw his ‘farm’ onto a place mat.

Takazawa's Farm vegetables

This I assume is his representation of his vegetable patch in the form of an edible garden. The “soil” consists of crunchy breadcrumbs and a cheesy and salty sauce. The vegetables are eaten chilled and are extremely crunchy. The breadcrumbs were amazing, definitely my favourite part of the dish.

Scrambled eggs w/ shaved truffle

This is definitely not your traditional boring scrambled eggs. If you thought Bill Granger’s egg were good, check this out. The eggshell was stuffed with scrambled eggs and topped with shaved summer truffles and foie gras. An amazing combination of ingredients, so much aroma, so much win.

"Milk" made w/ unidentified vegetable

His vision of milking his own cows, we were served chilled ‘milk’, which was more like a vegetable soup. Couldn’t figure out what the name of the vegetable was in english, but it tasted a bit like potato or even a mild mushroom. It was creamy yet refreshing, an interesting way to wash down the eggs and vegetables.

Left to right : Takazawa's farm place mat, Shirako cocott, Hot Balloon

To the top right is shirako cocott, otherwise known as cod sperm. Cooked in a cast iron pot, all the aroma and flavours were kept intact whilst it was served piping hot to us.

The next course was the hot balloon, a seafood soup cooked in a plastic bag and only cut loose once it was served to us. The soup was rich and creamy, with a variety of seasonal vegetables adding a bit of texture to the wonderful soup.

Dinner in B.C 2010

Dinner in B.C 2010 is the Chef’s depiction of what it was like to eat in the B.C era. With the meat as the main dish, he recreated what it would have been like to cook a piece of meat over an open fire with charcoal. We were told to eat the dish with our hands, because that’s how they use to roll before cutlery was created. Prior to this dish we were given hand refreshment towels to clean our hands, a nice touch indeed.

Left to right : Chef grinding himalayan salt, "charcoal" , hokkaido beef, reception desk

The ‘charcoal’ was actually made from sweet potato, and blackened to make it look like charcoal. The hokkaido beef was cooked to perfection. As you can see it was slightly pink with a generous amount of marble, a melt in your mouth experience it was.

Strawberry shortcake

After such an imaginative meal, dessert was a bit of an anticlimax in terms of creativity. It was a strawberry shortcake deconstructed, with dry ice thrown in for good measure. The taste was fantastic, spot on, but not as daring or creative as previous dishes. Maybe it was a good thing though, giving us a break from such an amazing array of dishes which has really raised my bar of expectation for high end fine dining. Along with the dessert is a choice of coffee or twelve different herbal teas, we opt for the teas in an attempt to cleanse our stomachs.

The verdict ?

I’d say it’s one of the best meals I’ve had in my life, but then again I’ve only really started eating Hatted and Michelin Starred food in the past two years, so what would I know ?

But I must say, the thought process that must of went through the Chef’s mind for each dish is something to be admired. The effort in interpreting an idea such as a dessert into a savoury dish is something which I have rarely seen.

I also asked why they only serve a handful of people each night ? Akiko said that the restaurant is inspired by the traditional Japanese tea ceremony where one host (Akiko and Chef) do their utmost to ensure that their guests are taken care of at the highest level. As a result, dining at Aronia De Takazawa is an experience shared with the Chef and his wife. The service is personal yet non intrusive, and we had many great conversations not just about food. It turns out that Akiko studied in the UK for many years, hence her fluent English. There was another waitress working on the night too and she was recently in Sydney working in a brief stint at The Hilton Hotel with Luke Mangan.

Dining at this restaurant was an interesting experience and it’s fair to say that nothing like it has come close for me in Sydney. Chef Takazawa pushes himself to the culinary limit with his vision, improvisation and creativity, yet manages to pull off stunning look dishes with amazing flavour to match.

As we pay our bill and leave, we are escorted out by the Chef down the flight of stairs. As we waved goodbye and said thanks, he stood outside his restaurant until we were out of sight. We turned around, he was still there, he bows, we bow and we make our way back to our hotel.

It’s hard to believe that he has no Michelin Stars. But he seems like he is enjoying what he does and doesn’t need to be in the Michelin Guide for people to turn up to his restaurant, if the several month long waiting lists are any indication.

Note : Aronia de Takazawa was recently voted as one of the top 1o life changing restaurants to visit in the world. http://www.foodandwine.com/slideshows/worlds-top-10-life-changing-restaurants

Aronia de Takazawa

Sanyo Akasaka Bldg 2F

3-5-2 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo 107-0052

# 81-3-3505-5052

Open daily 12 p.m. – 9 p.m.

www.aroniadetakazawa.com

Book several months in advance via email, I was lucky to get a booking within a few weeks. Akiko speaks fluent english.

31 Comments

  1. Holy cow, that looks like an absolutely stunning, memorable meal. The way he presented the ratatouille has to be the most unique, gorgeous way I’ve ever seen. A pity that the dessert wasn’t as complex but it still looks amazing. You guys are so lucky!
    .-= Steph´s last blog ..Violet Macarons with Lemon Curd =-.

  2. What an absolutely stunning experience you had there, thanks for sharing it with us :)

    The food looks absolutely divine. I want the farm placemat, what a very cute concept.

  3. OMG. Thank you for sharing that. I was just wondering – did you ask about taking photos before you arrived, or after? I have no idea how restaurants in Japan are about photo taking, especially places like this!

  4. wow.. very different sort of dining experience.. I like the way the chef shares his dream of owning a farm and making it a placemat.. making the food a bit more personal.. awesome meal! :)
    .-= YW´s last blog ..Quay Birthday =-.

  5. This is a wonderful post. The pictures are so vivid. I cannot imagine what is going through the chefs mind when he creates these dishes but they look amazing. The farm scene was very cute.
    .-= Mark @ Cafe Campana´s last blog ..Opening Soon =-.

  6. theqwerty1 says

    Hi, not sure if Joel Robuchon L’Atelier (HK) actually has 3 stars.

    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/669891

    I’m sorry, but IMO, 3 hat restaurants still have some way to go when you compare against Michelin starred restaurants, esp ones with 3 stars.

    There has been some debate when you are comparing the quality of HK Michelin stars vs. European Michelin stars (I know, they are supposed to set a uniform standard), but regardless, The technique and the service in the Sydney scene just isn’t there yet.

    I remember my experience at Le Cirque (2*), which still cannot be matched by any Sydney restaurant.

  7. theqwerty1 says

    I remember my experience at Le Cirque (2*), which still cannot be matched by any Sydney restaurant.

    whoops I meant Le Cinq lol

  8. Full on! Did you not get sea urchin overload though? I was a bit freaked out to begin with, as I thought the meal cost 240,000Y ($2911AU)! Now that would really break the bank!!
    I love the ingenuity, and its great to see that others are doing interesting things with food, not just Adria.
    .-= lili – pikelet&pie´s last blog ..On holidays, again. =-.

  9. @ gobsmack’d : indeed it was

    @Joey : Cheers, was hard to take pics the lighting was all over the place. Luckily the food was awesome.

    @billy : I regret not taking the placemat home!

    @pojaya : Fixed :)

    @Betty : Tokyo has some very innovative restaurants, this is just one of them!

    @Steph : Every where I read talks up the ratatouille, it has to be tasted to fully admire it.

    @Belle : I am happy to experience it, but at a cost :(

    @Kristy : Cheers, restaurant is amazing I wish I took photos of the bathroom that was something different as well.

    @phuoc : I regret not taking the placemat :/

    @Monica : Magical is an understatement, he is onto some big things.

    @aprtonym : Yes I did ask before taking photos, they were very cool with it! In Japan they all don’t mind at all, hell, even Joel Robuchon in HK didn’t mind!

    @YW : Different indeed, much different to Sydney!

    @Penny : I just wish Sydney chefs took these risks, but then again our market is much smaller which means less margin for experimentation without the cost and risk.

    @Mark : Yes, totally agree … he must have some awesome ideas in his mind to constantly churn out interesting and unique menus.

    @Ninja : I reckon the Michelin Stars will come soon!

    @theqwerty1 : I’ve been to most 3 hatters and I reckon at most they will fall under 2 stars, if not just 1 star.

    @myspatula : thats how I felt when I saw most the dishes!

    @mademoiselle délicieuse : Sure is :)

    @lili : Holy crap $2911 would be the death of me! I was ok with the sea urchin, it wasn’t ‘fish’ if you know what I mean.

  10. Ian Westcott says

    Thanks for the lovely review. Makes me even more determined to get bak to Aronia. Put it in my Top 5 possibly Top 3 meals ever and I’m not totally sure what I put ahead of it.
    Also got to get back for some more Toro at the market.

  11. After reading your post I immediately emailed Akiko and luckily I got a reservation, on Dec 24th! She told me that they have a special Christmas eve menu…I can’t wait to see what amazing tricks they’ll do that day. Thanks so much for sharing :)

    • Please let me know how it goes, would be interested to hear your thoughts! They are a lovely couple as well, Akiko is very lovely and chatty.

  12. This really does look amazing. When did you go? (I cannot find the date of the post – I think including dates would be quite useful, if I can be so obnoxious as to advise you). I too find it strange that no Michelin stars had been awarded. However, reducing 200000 restaurants to a 1500-2000 sample for the reviewing process is bound to let some slip through the cracks! I think this is something to try on our next trip, given that L’Osier is closing soon. That’s right, if you have not eaten there, you probably won’t ever! :)) It would have been quite different – classical elegance as opposed to such an avant-garde interpretation of food.
    Love your photos, and amazed at the their consistent quality between 5 bloggers!

    • Hi.

      I went in February 2010, date of the post is in the URL. My understanding about the Michelin Stars is that I ‘think’ you need to have some sort of membership in order to be considered for a Michelin Star. No membership = ineligible for consideration.

      Anyway yes this is a great restaurant, a bit expensive but it’s a different experience.

  13. fakefoodie says

    Am going there in 2 weeks. Your post has significantly heightened the anticipation. Thank you so much! Any tips on how you get such nice photos? Presume you must have a very large aperture on your lens, but is there much post-production? The colours are amazing.

  14. This is absolutely stunning! It truly is a meal to remember. Who needs Michelin stars or awards? Your photos are amazing too; thank you for sharing your lovely experience with us. I’m new to your blog, but I’ll certainly be back!

  15. Pingback: Food blogging – Takazawa « Sarah, Proud and Tall

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