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 ?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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
Open daily 12 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Book several months in advance via email, I was lucky to get a booking within a few weeks. Akiko speaks fluent english.