Restaurant Review – Kohaku

I was reading David Chang’s article on Lucky Peach about how Tokyo is one of the greatest food cities, and couldn’t help but concur with that sentiment. It’s almost difficult to go wrong with food in Tokyo, and even the train stations and convenience stores stock some pretty amazing shit. And it’s simply because they care a little bit more about it, well probably heck more about it as their attention to detail is probably second to none. Even the simplest and menial of tasks will be done with such immense care that my engineer OCD-ness is put to shame.

Well, that’s why I’m here now, I suppose. I’m here to eat at some of the greatest restaurants on this planet, and that isn’t necessarily an exageration. We’re off for a late dinner at Kohaku in the Kagurazaka area in Tokyo, which is a lively and buzzing neighborhood with some intriguing looking eateries, izakayas and what not. Definitely in the next Tokyo itinerary to wander about this neighborhood.

Kohaku was recently awarded its third Michelin star, and is a traditional Kaiseki restaurant albeit with some modern leanings e.g. the additional of truffles. I was very much looking forward to this meal, and some warm Japanese grub during the cold wintry day, with Sake, would definitely help keep my extremities from freezing off.

We started off with steamed taro with white Miso sauce. The taro had a creamy texture which melted in your mouth, albeit somehow managed to preserve its integrity with the Miso sauce. The white Miso sauce itself lent a warm and comforting note to the dish, which melded well with the luscious Taro ball.

Steamed shrimp shaped taro with home blended salt
Steamed shrimp shaped taro with white Miso sauce

Next, was a deep fried Horse-head fish (see here) with gingko nut and home blended salt on the side. Horse-head fish was definitely a first for me. The fish was perfectly deep fried with the scales intact, which provided a nice crunch to the dish. The gingko nut was a pleasant surprise, as the texture struck a right balance between being not overtly crunchy whilst having a lovely creaminess to it. The home blended salt had some star anise in it, and was very fragrant.

Deep fried Horsehead fish and Gingko nut, home blended salt
Deep fried Horsehead fish and Gingko nut, home blended salt

We moved on to a grilled black-throat Sea Perch with sticky rice. I’m all for flavor punches and this dish was very well seasoned, and complemented well with the texture of the sticky rice.

Grilled Black-throat Sea Perch on a sticky rice
Grilled Black-throat Sea Perch on a sticky rice

Now, I reckon this one of my favorite dishes in Tokyo thus far. Snow crab dumpling in a clear soup. This dish is a paragon of perfection in its simplicity, which is no small feat. The snow crab meat was somehow molded into a ball without any sort of dumpling skin, and the flavor of the meat was impeccably sweet and luscious in texture. The clear soup itself acted almost like a blank canvas in order to feature the true star of the show, the magnificent snow crab. Bloody amazing dish.

Snow Crab Dumpling in Clear Soup
Snow Crab Dumpling in Clear Soup

The English translation of this dish seem to have went a bit bonkers, as it was described as “Filefish with its Inner Covered with Chef’s Secret Jelly”, which does sound a bit naughty. The raw Filefish was immersed in a chilled, savory jelly, which seemed to be dashi based with chives and bonito on top. The fish itself was very fresh. A flavorful dish, but not necessarily my favorite of the night.

Filefish in its Inner covered with Jelly
Filefish in its Inner covered with Jelly

Next, was a charcoal grilled Spanish Mackerel with kneaded lotus root and truffles. The fish was well cooked and had a lovely hint of charcoal smoke to it. On the other hand, the cube of fried kneaded lotus root was a revelation! The textural contrast between the springy, almost Mochi like texture of the kneaded lotus root with the crispy exterior was profoundly delicious. The black truffles rounded things off by adding a deep, earthiness to a very successful course.

Charcoal grilled Spanish Mackerel and Knead Lotus Root with Truffles
Charcoal grilled Spanish Mackerel and Kneaded Lotus Root with Truffles

It’s interesting how a Japanese Kaiseki meal would rotate between various cold and hot courses, which more often than not turn out to be rather harmonious. After our very warm charcoal grilled fish, we moved on to cold dish of Kinme Snapper with Shittake mushrooms. A very lightly seasoned dish, but each component could be tasted with striking clarity.

Kinme Snapper garnished with Shittake mushrooms
Kinme Snapper garnished with Shittake mushrooms

Next, was just harvested bamboos and prawn, in a soup of ground Milt and Shogoin Turnip from Kyoto. For the uninitiated, Milt is the seminal fluid from mollusk and fishes. Not the most appetizing sounding of ingredients, but quite commonly used in Japanese cuisine. In this dish, the milt was grounded and made into a soup with the turnips, which was redolent of congee that I might get back home. The bamboo added a lovely crunch to the dish, and the prawn was also sweet and well cooked. Despite the rather bizarre ingredient, the dish was very comforting and quite delicious. One might say that this was the chef’s seminal work in perfecting Japanese cuisine? Maybe a bit too lewd, oh well.

Just Harvested Bamboo shoot and Prawn, Soup of Ground Milt and Shogoin Turnip from Kyoto
Just Harvested Bamboo shoot and Prawn, Soup of Ground Milt and Shogoin Turnip from Kyoto

For the final savory course, we were served a very simple and austere steamed rice dish with egg, pickled vegetables and Miso soup. A classic Japanese combination, but also well executed. The steamed rice with egg was particularly pleasing, as each grain of rice was intact without sticking to each other.

Steamed rice with egg
Steamed rice with egg
Steamed rice with egg, pickled vegetables and Miso soup
Steamed rice with egg, pickled vegetables and Miso soup

We concluded the meal with a dessert of Caramel ice cream, Rum Mousse, Jelly with fried tofu skin. The dish was not overtly sweet and the fried tofu skin added a crunch to the dish. A decent dessert albeit not particularly memorable.

Caramel ice cream, Rum mousse and Jelly with fried tofu skin
Caramel ice cream, Rum mousse and Jelly with fried tofu skin

Overall, this was undoubtedly my favorite meal of the trip. The food was brilliant with very minute flaws. The chef definitely showed an immense respect for the ingredients, and crafted a meal that was familiar yet satisfying, which was suitable for the wintry conditions. Service was impeccable, and the waitress was also instrumental in ensuring that we had an amazing experience.

I’ll definitely be back for this one.

Location: 3-4 Kagurazaka, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo. +813-5225-0807. Website.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: