Aronia de Takazawa

3丁目-5-2 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo, Japan, 107-0052, Japan

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This restaurant opened in 2005, a family affair with Yoshiaki Takazawa behind the stoves and his wife Akiko running the service single-handed. It is tucked away in a side street in Akasaka, up a flight of stairs from the street-level entrance. Mr Takazawa trained at the Park Hyatt hotel, but has very much ploughed his own culinary furrow here, producing a modern fusion of Japanese and French cooking.

The dining room is smart, with just five tables (it used to be only two until May 2012) with a steel counter at the far end of the room where the chefs finish the dishes prior to serving. The handrail on the flight of stairs going up to the dining room has a poem (in English) displayed along it in lights. There is no menu choice, though the kitchen will adjust things within reason to personal taste, with our menu costing ¥24,000 (£158). There is a wine list, and a wine pairing option using only Japanese wines. The foreign wines were entirely French, with a high starting price and fairly hefty markups. Serafin Gevrey Chambertin 2006 was 24,000 for a wine that you can find retail for around ¥5,294. Didier Dagenau Silex 2005 was ¥34,000 for a wine that you can find in a shop for around ¥12,305, and Asteroide 2008 from the same vineyard was ¥150,000 for a wine that has a retail price of around ¥75,195.

The meal began with a "pea soup" but at Takazawa little is as it appears. A dashi stock jelly held the soup inside, the overall shape and colour being designed to look like a pair of olives. Sometimes such trickery can be tiresome, especially if it comes at the expense of flavour, but here the flavour came through clearly, with good quality peas used. Next to this was a mock sardine tin actually containing very good firefly squid (a delicacy from the western Pacific known for its light-producing tentacles). The little squid had excellent briny flavour and no hint of chewiness (16/20 for the soup, 17/20 for the squid).

Shirauo (Japanese anchovy) was served as tempura with wild mountain vegetables (with no known English translation) and green tea salt. Though prettily presented, I thought this was one of the least convincing dishes, the batter less light than at the excellent tempura restaurant that I had eaten at lunch that day, the herbs being a little bitter (15/20).

Next was ratatouille, a signature dish of the restaurant. This has fifteen different vegetables served as a mosaic, a mini-terrine, intended to be eaten in one mouthful. This was excellent, the vegetables of high quality, the dusting of salt spot on in terms of accuracy of seasoning (17/20). On the side was black sesame bread with a pork pate from Okinawa, which was pleasant enough but did not have a lot of flavour.

The best dish of the meal was a vegetable parfait, with gazpacho served in a glass, accompanied by cucumber, tomato essence, basil purée and crisp black cabbage as garnish, with a hint of Parmesan. The Japanese tomatoes were superb and had great intensity of flavour, the combination with the other vegetables lovely, the cabbage adding a textural contrast (19/20).

The next dish was a cold spring roll, modelled on a Vietnamese spring roll but with a presentational twist. The outside of the roll, with its herbs, was stretched out over a bowl, the wild tiger prawn that was the centrepiece of the dish to one side. The prawn was then rolled up at the table, the bowl underneath revealing a peanut and olive oil dip.  This had good flavour from the coriander in the roll and the high quality prawn; certainly a very sophisticated spring roll (16/20).

This was followed by "harvest", with another elaborate presentation. A rectangular glass box was brought containing "soil" (actually toasted breadcrumbs), with asparagus, radish and salad leaves planted in the soil. The asparagus from Nagano, which had been grilled over charcoal just prior to serving, was superb (17/20).

By this stage it should be clear that carbonara was never going to be a regular pasta dish. Here the pasta was replaced with bamboo shoots, with wild boar bacon and a garnish of black truffle. This was very clever, the bamboo shoots tender and the bacon excellent, though was this really better than a classic carbonara? Still, an enjoyable and witty dish (16/20).

I was very impressed with snapper, served with red radish, raddicio and a beetroot sauce to complete the red colour theme. I would not count snapper as one of my favourite fish, but here it was superb, perfectly cooked with an almost meaty texture and great flavour, the vegetables working well with the distinctive taste of the fish (18/20).

The final savoury course was beef from Nagasaki cooked over charcoal, with leeks, mushrooms and tofu as garnish. A successful match for the meat was a poached egg marinated in red wine, which provided a rich stock to accompany the very tender beef, which had plenty of marbling but still retained a real beefy flavour, unlike some of the ultra-marbled beef in Japan (18/20). My wife had a Gorgonzola, miso and walnut mash inside a layer of bread that was disguised as a potato before it was opened out to reveal its secrets. This was rich and enjoyable (17/20).

A pre-dessert was just a little fruit, but presented in an original way as the fruit was hanging from a plum tree; the orange, tangerine, mandarin and kumquat were tucked away in the branches, along with a yuzu marshmallow. It is hard to score a bit of fruit, but this was certainly a clever way to present it.

Strawberry "shortcake" came in a glass box with dry ice smoke effect. Inside the box were slices of strawberry with vanilla ice cream and frozen whipped cream. Once the smoke had cleared the dessert itself was good rather than dazzling: the strawberries had excellent flavour, but the vanilla ice cream needed more vanilla flavour and the whipped cream was very cold, while for me the dish could have been a little sweeter (15/20).

The meal finished with an oddly weak-tasting coffee and some petit fours, including some nice biscuits shaped as cats. The service from Akiko was charming throughout, and as a bonus she spoke excellent English. The bill came to ¥69,900 for two (£230 a head) with beer and some glasses of Japanese wine. I liked Takazawa: so often modern cooking emphasises culinary trickery at the expense of flavour, but here the ingredients were of exemplary quality, flavours were generally well balanced, and the cooking technique was excellent. As with any lengthy tasting menu, not every dish was a star, but the best ones were very good indeed. Many modernist European chefs could learn a lot from eating here. 

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