3829 Shima, Osaka, Japan

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This kaiseki restaurant opened originally in 1868, but has been in its current from since 1993. Its head chef is Hideaki Matsuo, who studied theoretical physics at university, not a common path for a chef. He trained with Shuntaro Nakamura, the head chef at Shofukuro, a ryotei in Higashioumi, Shigaken, for three years. Kashiwaya is situated in a residential area in the outskirts of Osaka. You enter from the street up a flight of steps into the main building, and are escorted to a private dining room. Our room had a view onto a little raked gravel garden, the room simply decorated by a single scroll of calligraphy and a beautiful lacquer box. Service was directed by the wife of the chef, and it turned out that she spoke quite good English.

The meal began with a little glass of bamboo root and seaweed jelly, the latter being very much an acquired taste. Next was bonito that had been seared, though served cold, with Japanese taro and a garnish of ginger, presented in a cherry blossom leaf. This was good, the bonito just very lightly seared, the ginger a good foil for the rich fish (16/20).  Next was a soup of a white fish for which there didn't seem to be an English translation (this happens a lot in Japan, where vastly more species of fish are sold commercially than we see in the UK: Tsukiji market in Tokyo alone sells over 700 different species). The hostess kindly brought out a book with a picture of the fish, which resembled a gurnard. The soup had a light stock and a piece of tofu, and was pleasant enough (14/20).

Sashimi comprised scallop, snapper and cuttlefish, with real grated wasabi root. The scallops were quite good, with some inherent sweetness, and the cuttlefish was impressive, without a hint of chewiness, which was more than could be said for the snapper (15/20 average). Next was prawn sushi, and sushi of conger eel. The prawn had good flavour and I really liked the eel, which was of high quality (16/20). Next was cooked trout with onion, baby conger eels served cold, an egg cake with prawn, seaweed and potato ball, a taro ball, and some salmon and miso. The trout was, to be honest, cooked a little too long; the accompaniments were nice, though I did not take to the baby conger eels, despite the fact that I am normally an eel fan (13/20).

This was followed by a soft boiled quail egg in a seaweed jelly. I found this quite hard going, not being a big fan of seaweed jelly, though I think objectively it was quite well made (14/20). What was described as whitebait but I believe was another Japanese white fish came with peas and baby taro, along with a different type of young conger eel. The peas and taro were fine, though the eel had a mushy consistency that I did not enjoy (13/20). A bowl of rice now arrived, marking the end of the savoury courses with a selection of pickles, pleasant miso soup and a little dish of what seemed to be a powdered form of snapper.

Dessert was a soy bean jelly topped with mango, pineapple and diced strawberries, the fruits themselves pleasant, though by no means the best I encountered on this trip to Japan. This was followed by a more challenging dessert of cherry blossom paste, white gluten and beam paste (14/20). The bill came to ¥26,082 which included a beer. This works out to £98 a head. The service was, even by high Japanese standards, utterly charming, with an evident interest and concern in the customer's wishes and desires. This made me wish I had enjoyed the meal more than I had, as although it was nice enough it did not compare particularly well with the better 3 star kaiseki dining that I have eaten elsewhere in Japan.


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