This restaurant serves "shojin" food, Buddhist vegetarian cuisine, and was established in 1950 by Nomura Yoshikawa. It is located near the Seisho-ji temple at the foot of Mount Atago in the Shimbashi area, within Minato-ku. Nomura Daisuke is the head chef; the restaurant was awarded two Michelin stars in 2009, which it has retained ever since. The restaurant is on the second floor of the Atago Forest Tower. You access it via the car park, where there are lifts that will take you directly to the second floor. There you are greeted by a waitress in traditional dress, and you remove your shoes before being given taken to your own room. There are eight private rooms, some of which look out on to a little garden.
The meal began with warm bamboo shoot wrapped in a leaf and marinated in mirin, with a little bowl of spinach to one side. This was very enjoyable, the slight sweetness of the mirin working well with the earthy flavour of the bamboo (16/20). Next came a clear soup of carrot, burdock, tiny mushrooms and deep-fried potatoes, flavoured with pepper. This was pleasant enough but there are limits to how thrilling a clear soup of vegetables can really be unless the ingredients are remarkable, which these were not (14/20).
Soba noodles were next, with green onions, Japanese mustard and seaweed as garnishes. The noodles had good texture but even with the garnishes the flavour was quite limited (at best 14/20). The next plate had a selection of vegetables: lotus root, beans and onion along with vegetable sushi (carrot and aubergine) and a slice of apricot. The lotus root was good and I enjoyed the vegetable sushi, though I am not quite sure what the apricot really brought to the party (13/20).
The tempura course lifted the meal, having quite delicate batter. There was tempura of sweet potato, bracken fern, butternut squash and a relative of the Brussels sprout, along with a ginger stem. The vegetables themselves were excellent (16/20). This was followed by artichoke hearts coated in a mirin sauce, presented in artichoke leaves. The sweet mirin was an interesting contrast to the earthy flavour of the artichoke, which itself was tender (14/20). Fried bean curd with mushroom and mixed vegetables was properly cooked though scarcely thrilling, though a ginger soup that came with it was refreshing (13/20). The savoury courses concluded with the traditional rice and pickles, in the form of Japanese rice porridge with tiny mushrooms,
Dessert was in two stages. First was fruit: a strawberry and a loquat, which is a fruit grown in Japan for a millennium and tastes like a cross between a peach and an apricot. The strawberry had dazzling flavour, as the best fruit in Japan always does. This was followed by an extremely sweet red bean soup, which was pleasant enough for a mouthful or two if you have a very sweet tooth, but tasted a little like honey injected with extra sugar.
Our waitress was charming, attentive and friendly. The bill came to ¥51,046 for two (£158 a head) with just beer to drink. Of course you are paying for the private room and the service, but even so this felt like a lot of money for a sequence of vegetables. I would not have an issue if the vegetables were exceptional, but apart from the strawberry they were nothing special by Japanese standards. I have certainly encountered better aubergine, lotus root, onions, beans and mushrooms elsewhere in this country. I really wanted to like Daigo more than I actually did, as the notion of a purely vegetarian kaiseki meal is very interesting, and I think could potentially be dazzling given the quality of produce that can be obtained in Japan. Instead the perfect strawberry was the only tantalising hint of what might have been.