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Ginza Okamoto

5F, 8-3-12 Ginza, Tokyo, Japan, Japan

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This restaurant opened in July 2012, its owner Hidetsugu Okamoto striking out on his own after his time as head chef at Michelin 3 starred restaurant Yukimura, having previously trained at Wakuden in Kyoto. The restaurant has eight counter seats and four further seats at a solitary table. It is on the 5th floor of a nondescript office building in the Ginza, with the usual discreet entrance. Four chefs work across the counter from the diners, preparing the kaiseki meals.

Our meal began with abalone and spring vegetables topped with fish roe sauce, served cold. The abalone was ultra-tender, no mean achievement in itself. Indeed it was only after visiting Japan that I realised that abalone could actually be tender. The vegetables were charcoal-grilled and added a slightly smoky note to the seafood (16/20). This was followed by an array of little starters: broad beans with dried cherry blossom, goby fish with ginger, a salad with sweet vinegar sauce, shrimp spring roll and vinegar seaweed. This was all very good, the spring roll excellent, the salad dressing having a hint of mustard (16/20).

Next was a soup of half beak fish wrapped in dried wheat gluten, the stock of the soup enjoyably rich, the fish carefully cooked (16/20). This was followed by white asparagus with prawn, rape blossom, prawn and egg sauce and a garnish of sea cucumber ovaries, again served cold. The asparagus was lovely, the prawn sweet and tender, the sauce rich and comforting (17/20). Ayu (sweet fish) simply grilled over charcoal was next, the fish having the characteristic blend of sweetness of flesh with a slight bitterness from the head, an interesting combination when eaten whole (16/20).

Tempura of bamboo shoots and greenling fish was next, with a sweetened vinegar sauce with just a hint of red chilli. The fish had excellent flavour, the batter was light and the sauce worked very well (17/20). Yam and buckwheat noodles, served cold, had the interesting addition of buckwheat seeds, giving an enjoyable textural crunch to complement the excellent noodles (16/20).

The final savoury course was fascinating. A mountain pepper flower called sansho or prickly ash was cooked in a rich stock with dashi and onion. Into this was dipped very thin slices of pork (from Kanagawa), the pork requiring only a very short cooking time. The pork itself was excellent but the intriguing thing was the sauce, the pepper flower providing a distinctive spicy kick with a slight citrus hint that tasted like a gentler version of Szechuan pepper. This is because the sansho and Szechuan pepper are in fact related, though in Szechuan cooking you normally encounter the seeds. The slight numbing effect on the tongue comes from an oil in the plant (hydroxy alpha sanshool), which causes a tingling when eaten. In Szechuan cooking the numbing effect can be overwhelming, but here the effect was more restrained, the tongue tingling rather than being numbed. This was all really enjoyable, the stock having good depth of flavour (18/20). The same cooking was used with thin slices of beef from Iwatee in north-east Japan.

As is traditional, the savoury courses concluded with rice and pickles, the rice having sea bream roe and bamboo shoots as a garnish. The dessert was an excellent yoghurt sorbet with red beans and a vanish of strawberry sauce. The yoghurt was suitably soothing to the palate after the spices, and the strawberries had excellent flavour (17/20). Finally there was a snack of karinto wrapped in ginger, a deep fried cylinder of flour, brown sugar and yeast.

The bill came to ¥25,000 (£165) per person, with plenty of beer to drink. The chefs were welcoming and enthusiastic, one young chef speaking good English and happy to chat about the dishes. This was a very enjoyable experience, the ingredients impeccable, cooking technique hard to fault and with some genuinely unusual dishes.

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