Ransen is located in the basement arcade of New Otani Hotel in Tokyo. You would almost missed it as it is tucked away in the corner with a nondescript entrance. I have walked past it many times without knowing what it serves. I would now put it as one of best Kaiseki I have had in Tokyo.
Kaiseki is the seasonal art of Japanese culinary excellence. The best of each season is paraded through meticulously prepared courses of pure delight. Usually divided into 8 to 10 courses, it brings you through a variety of cooking techniques – grilling, simmering, deep frying, and of course in Japanese cooking, eating the ingredient raw.
And each course is presented in a different utensil to excite, accentuate or create a different experience or feeling towards the course. The balance of colour, texture, taste is carefully calculated and presented.
1/ Sakizuke 先附 Amuse Bouche
Like the amuse bouche of the French fine dining, the sakizuke attempt to set the tone of the meal, to demonstrate the technique and direction the following courses will be coming from.
“Takigawa-tofu” jellied tofu strips, sea urchin, Chinese yam, okra, grated ginger with dashi broth. The Takigawa tofu 滝川豆腐 is a summer dish that is made of soy milk combined with agar-agar to produce a jelly tofu that is pushed out using a specialised tool and arranged like a water flowing through a river. Okra is a summer vegetable. Grated ginger and Chinese yam are usually used to accompany tofu. And when these ingredients are combined with special dashi and sea urchin, the classic tofu dish is complete.
Here’s a Youtube video that showed how the tofu is made.
2/ Hassun 八寸 Appetizers
The Hassun course celebrates the seasonal tastes. The chef would usually assemble a delectable collection of the season’s best – the concept of “Shun” 旬 – and presented them in a variety of technique. Every dish could be a course by itself, each painstakingly made.
Fish paste topped with corn. A layer of fish cake was hidden under a layer of Japanese sweet corn. The “kueh lapis” (in Malay, layered cake, quite appropriate here) was then grilled to produce a smoky, charred appearance that enhanced the sweetness of the corn and savoury of the fish cake.
A small freshwater fish, ayu is the silver-blue creature you’ll spot spiked above a grill at any festival or street-food stall in Japan during summer. When barbecued on a stick, you’ll see they are shaped to look as if swimming—this is to reflect their perseverance as they swim against the current. Their flesh has a pleasingly sweet flavor, often thought similar to melon and refreshing against the grilled flavors. While grilled with salt is the most common way to try it, you can also find it served up as tempura and in more unusual forms like ice cream! It is especially popular in August during their spawning season, but you can enjoy it throughout the whole of summer.
Deep-fried young Ayu with tartare sauce. Here it was served as an “Agemono” 揚げ物, a deep-fried dish, with homemade tartare sauce as a condiment. Instead of normal pickles, the chef has used Japanese pickles to give the acidity to the dip. The ayu was fried so crisp, you just eat it whole.
Japanese taro with melted cheese. This is like my childhood dream come true. Taro ball is one of my favourite dessert. And cheese covered taro made this perfect. The sweet taro with savoury cheddar cheese. Tasty.
Grilled small eggplant with sweet miso なす田楽 (Nasu Dengaku). Japanese eggplants are available year-round with peak season summer through fall. The eggplant is a symbol of good luck in Japanese culture and is valued for its nutrient dense skin.
Kuromame (黒豆) Sweetened Black Beans are black beans cooked in sweet syrup for over a period of three days. It is a part of Osechi Ryori, the traditional Japanese new year feast and represents a wish for good health and hard work. There are a lot of kinds of dishes for Osechi, but kuromame is one of the big three celebration dishes, along with tazukuri (candied dried anchovies) and kazunoko (herring roe). Symbolic meanings aside, these beans are actually extremely rich in anti-oxidants and iron.
Glaze-grilled Unagi eel. Here, the chef wrapped the unagi with rice cake and topped with two kuromame. The savoury of the unagi is delicately balanced with the sweetness of the black beans, this is like New Year’s Day all over again.
Egg yolk cake coated with salmon. This is my favourite among the appetisers. A salted egg yolk is wrapped around a piece of smoked salmon. The savoury ball was really tasty as well as pleasing to the eye.
Winter melon with sesame dressing, wolfberry. A well-simmered piece of winter melon with a vinegar-sesame dressing, served cold. Very yummy and suitable for summer.
Nigiri-sushi Otoro. Chef is a sushi chef by training, so the otoro was made to perfection, Just the right size for a single bite. Room temperature to bring out the full otoro flavour.
3/ Futamono 蓋物 Soup
Suppon すっぽん is a soft-shell turtle that is commonly eaten in Japan. It is believed to give one energy, especially virility, because of the dangerous, strong nature of the animal. Its neck is cut while it is still alive, and the blood is collected into a cup, and is then mixed with sake. Some middle aged men drink the blood sake for their health. The liver is sometimes eaten raw. Its body from head to tail is cut into pieces and boiled in nabe (a Japanese pot) with vegetables. Its meat has a soft texture and a plain taste like chicken. The skin of suppon is thick, tender and full of collagen, which is believed to make one’s skin more supple and radiant. Because of that, many ladies love to eat it.
‘Suppon’ softshell turtle meat-stuffed rice cake, sliced scallions. The soft turtle meat is stuffed into mochi and cooked in a clear soup of ginger, stock (dashi?) and sprinkled liberally with scallions. I loved the soup’s simplicity, and I have always loved to eat turtle soup in Singapore. Always a good variation from usually herbal variety in Singapore.
4/ Mukōzuke 向付 Seasonal Sashimi
Seasonal assorted sashimi. It’s all about the presentation. From left to right. Chu toro, kochi (flat head), tsubugai (whelk) placed on a cucumber dish and shaded by the lotus leaf with a little water drop in the middle. Really brings out a summer day with this dish.
5/ Yakimono 焼物 Grilled Dish
Salt-grilled Ayu Sweetfish. Ayu no shio yaki. When the aye fish arrives, its the sweet signal of summer. Salt-grilled ayu is regarded as the king of ayu dishes. The grill fully draws out the flavor and rich taste of ayu. The deliciousness of the dish depends not only on the freshness of the ayu but also on the skill and experience of the chef. Skillfully grilled ayu captivates those who eat it with its soft meat and savory aroma.
I could eat a dozen of this fish. This one fish could not satisfy me, even though it was very high quality and well grilled.
6/ Takiawase 煮合 Simmered Dish
This course is usually a vegetable that is simmered with a meat, fish or tofu. The ingredients are simmered separately and then assembled together in the dish.
The presentation of this dish was elegant. All the ingredients were put together in a porcelain bowl with a matching lid. You cannot wait to review the content of the beautiful vessel. And when you lifted the lid, the fragrance of the simmered dish was released.
Simmered winter melon and grated radish, horsehair crab, scallop, wood fungus, lily bulb, grated ginger with thick starchy sauce. The horsehair crab ケガニ (kegani) is a species of crab which is found in the Sea of Okhotsk and the Pacific Ocean and is frequently used in Japanese cuisine. If you are looking, you might thought it was a sharkfin soup. There was a few strands of shark fin 鱶鰭 ふかひれ. It is, after all, a very classy Kaiseki meal. But it was no added taste to the simmered dish as the taste came from the scallop and other ingredients cooked in perfect harmony in a thick, umami-laden broth.
Zaru soba. Instead of the traditional Gohan, Konomono, Tomewan (御飯・香の物・止椀) combination in a Kaiseki, Chef has included a summer favourite of cold soba noodles eaten with a mentsuyu sauce. Also the noodle water – the water that was used to cook the soba – was catered for you to pour into the remaining mentsuyu sauce after you have finished the soba to have a refreshing warm soup.
8/ Mizumono 水物 Dessert
Dessert – Zenzai seasonal fruits. Milk ice cream with macha sauce, momo (peach), mango and red beans.
I could help but to order an a la carte gunkan of uni. I saw the next couple having their sushi omakase, and the uni looked really delicious. It was, indeed, fantastic.
Chef Matsuda Hisakazu
Chef Matsuda was born in Kawasaki and started his culinary journey at the age of 15 and finally worked his way to Sushi Chef at age 34.
I really enjoyed this dinner. Chef Matsuda tried very hard with his limited English to do small talk with you. I tried to amuse the room with my broken Japanese. Hopefully no one was insulted along the way.
Arcade Flr., The Main building, Hotel New Otani
4-1 Kioi-Cho, Chiyoda-Ku, Tokyo, 102-8578, Japan
Tel : 03-3514-1751
Date Visited : Jul 2018