I often thought Kitaohji was associated with the famous gourmand Rosanjin, or is it? Let’s go to the Honten to find out.
“Cooking is not something to taste with just your tongue, but to enjoy the harmony between beauty and flavour”.北大路魯山人 Kitaoji Rosanjin (1883-1959)
北大路 魯山人 Kitaoji Rosanjin
Kitaōji Rosanjin 北大路 魯山人 (March 23, 1883 – December 21, 1959), whose real name was Kitaōji Fusajirō 北大路 房次郎, was best known by his artistic name, Rosanjin 魯山人. A man of many talents, Rosanjin was also a calligrapher, ceramicist, engraver, painter, lacquer artist and restaurateur.
As a restaurateur, Rosanjin developed a reputation for exacting standards in selecting fresh, local ingredients and for plating his dishes artistically on tableware he often designed himself. His ideals have inspired contemporary chefs and foodies alike and deeply inform idealised conceptions of washoku, such as the one presented by UNESCO.
However this restaurant chain was not associated with this famous gourmand. That would be Kioicho Fukudaya.
The Summer Menu
Kitaohji Ginza (main branch) is a famous 90 year old kaiseki restaurant. A kaiseki is a meticulously prepared meal spread out over a lengthy courses, starting with an appetiser course called Hassun and moving on to premium mains like charcoal grilled wagyu beef. A special kaiseki course with a refreshing taste of summer, conger eel 鱧 and Japanese black beef 黒毛和牛 were featured on the menu.
For a quick introduction to Japanese fine dining, Kitaohji would be a good starting point. With an all private-suite arrangement, this is often my favourite business meeting place with my Japanese associates.
- 水菜お浸し Boiled Mizuna green
- 玉子カステラ Egg castella
- 炙り太刀魚小袖寿司 Kosode-Style seared hairtail Sushi
- 玉蜀黍豆腐 Sweet corn Tofu
- 枝豆真薯 Steamed Edamame dumpling
- 真蛸柔らか煮 Simmered tender octopus
- キス玄米揚げ Deep-fried sand borer (kisu fish) with brown rice (not available and replaced with 鱈の田楽焼き Dengaku-style grilled cod)
Also known as the Hassun 八寸, it featured the seasonal bites of appetisers using ingredients appropriate for the summer season.
キス (Kisu) or 鱚 (Japanese whiting) was not available so it was replaced with 鱈の田楽焼き Dengaku-style grilled cod, but we were not told beforehand. Everything was prepared way ahead of time, so everything came at room temperature. I enjoyed the edamame dumpling made with minced fish and edamame, and the corn tofu the most as they showed the intricate nature of kaiseki dining.
【御造り】 Sashimi dish
- 鮪 Tuna
- 縞鯵 Striped jack
- 伊佐木焼 Seared grunt
- 牡丹海老 Spot prawn
The sashimi course is usually served at room temperature, so do not be alarmed. But the spotted prawn or Botan prawn smelled a bit off, and since it was only the first day of my Tokyo trip, I better be careful. However it was not expected in such a high-end restaurant nor in Japan.
【小鍋】 Small hotpot
鱧しゃぷしゃぶ Conger Eel Shabu-shabu
Conger eel from Awaji Island 淡路島産の鱧 is in season during summer. Cut into large pieces, its whiteness and fluffy texture remind us of summer clouds. It is rich in chondroitin, which is said to be good for summer fatigue, and vitamin A, which is said to be the source of beauty and health.
The shabu-shabu was prepared with Kitaohji’s special soup stock and simply let the main ingredient stood out with its clean taste. I wanted to order another serving to the Conger eel, but it was only the half way point in the kaiseki, so I resisted. I finished every last drop of the soup.
【肉物】 Meat dish
黒毛和牛ステーキ Sirloin Steak (Japanese black beef)
They used kuroge beef from Ishigaki 石垣黒毛牛 for this course. I was disappointed that the beef came in cold. They had not done justice to the very excellent ingredient. Served on asparagus that had been blanched (!!), it was the worst wagyu beef dish I have had in years.
【強肴】 Simmered dish
うざく Grilled eel with cucumber in vinegar
Never thought it would appear as a Kaiseki course, as it was simple household dish. Originated from Mie Prefecture 三重県, it was written as 「鰻ざく」 or Uzaku うざく (which also translates to “annoying”); as for the etymology, it is said that “zaku” ざく comes from the sound of cutting cucumbers. The dish is very simple to make – kabayaki 蒲焼 eel is mixed with cucumber, and mixed with Amazu 甘酢 (sweet vinegar) and white vinegar. The heaviness of the eel was reset in the mouth with the refreshing vinegar, and eels are eaten during summer as it contains Vitamin A and good for tired bodies.
【特食事】 Special Meal
- 鱧と新生姜の炊き込みご飯 Japanese mixed rice with Conger eel and fresh ginger
- 味噌汁 Miso soup
- 香の物 Pickled vegetables
Signalling that we were coming to the end of the banquet, the rice course was served. Tonight’s special rice course was mixed with Conger eel and ginger, quite delicious but not much Conger eel in sight.
- わらび餅 Warabi mochi (Rice cake made of bracken starch)
- メロン Melon
- 桃ゼリー Peach jelly
- 抹茶ガトーショコラ Matcha chocolate cake
And to round up a not-so-amazing dinner, it was a quartet of Japanese sweets and fruits. The peach jelly was house-made and was a summer specialty; so was the bracken mochi with sweet topping that looked like kaya (coconut jam), but was actually green bean paste. The melon was beaten by the fact that everything else was sweeter than itself. I did not enjoy the matcha chocolate ice cream.
This is the third Kitaohji I have tried in Tokyo, the first was a Saryo 茶寮 concept that mimicked the experience of dining inside little teahouses in Akasaka; the second was the kaiseki concept at Yurakucho. Finally we get to try the Honten in Ginza 銀座本店.
The dinner was proper Kaiseki, but it was quite normal, not the top notch quality that I experienced in some other Kaiseki restaurants in Japan. But at the price point that they are charging, it is a very good introduction to Kaiseki dining.
However I was not sure if it was because I booked the dinner without help of a Japanese colleague, we were seated at a small room in B2 instead of the usual B1 suites with tatami floors. Also the waitress that served our suite was not very well-trained. I never had this happened to me in other branches. Maybe I was just sensitive. But I guessed I have outgrown this chain of restaurant.
Kitaohji Ginza Honten 北大路 銀座本店
8-5-12 Ginza, Daini Uruwashi Bldg. B1,B2, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
〒104-0061 東京都中央区銀座8-5-12 第二ウルワシビルB1・B2
Tel : 03-3575-0707
Visited Jul 2023
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