The 17 seat Taian opened in 2000. Its owner and head chef is Hitoshi Takahata, who trained at Aji-Kiccho, a restaurant in Shinsaibashi (Osaka) for 15 years before opening Taian at the age of 34. He serves orthodox Japanese dishes while incorporating some Western cuisine elements. Unusually for Japan, there is an extensive wine list, with around 200 different wines. There are also 200 kinds of Ochoco (cups for sake), that the chef and his wife collected on their travels around Japan.
Taian is situated in a quiet side street in central Osaka. There is a single table, plus a dozen seats arrayed around a counter where the chefs work. The meal began with a series of nibbles: beans with shreds of ginger, a Japanese tomato, an egg in vinegar, a shrimp and abalone liver. These were pleasant enough (5/10). Next was snapper in a soup, along with a local mushroom. The fish had good flavour, the stock well balanced (5/10). Sashimi followed: maguro tuna and snapper with grated wasabi root, wasabi leaves and cherry blossom salt. The tuna had silky texture, the snapper pleasant, the wasabi excellent (6/10).
At the point my wife had salmon grilled with a honey glaze and served with a sauce made from Japanese cooking apples. The fish was cooked very well, the sauce having a little sharpness (7/10). I had Matsusaka beef, served on an embellished pottery tray placed on a hot stone to keep the thin slices of beef warm. A lovely plum sauce was served on the side. Matsusaka beef is one of the three most prized areas for beef in Japan, along with Kobe and Omi beef, the cattle carefully cared for to produce a high degree of marbling. Although Kobe beef is much better known outside Japan, Matsusaka beef is every bit as good, in my view, and this particular beef was superb: plenty of marbling meaning a meltingly tender experience, yet still tasting distinctly of beef, which can sometimes be missing in these ultra-marbled cattle. This was pretty much as good as beef gets (at least 9/10).
Next were little goujons of white fish, breaded and deep fried, served just with lemon to garnish. The coating was excellent, the fish cooked well (7/10). This was followed by bamboo shoot and seaweed, the bamboo shoot extremely tender (6/10). At this point a bowl of rice arrived as the final savoury course, in this case with wild vegetables, as well as pickles and excellent miso soup.
Dessert was mango jelly with a strawberry sauce, laced with black beans from Kyoto and green peas, the mango having superb flavour (6/10). The bill came to ¥28,182 for two, working out to £107 a head including several beers. Staff were very friendly, though limited English was spoken here. It was interesting watching the chefs work at the counter, demonstrating their evidently excellent knife skills, for example, which added to the experience. A very enjoyable evening.