Koan is in the town of Fujisawa in the Shonan region, a resort area on the east coast of Japan. The town can be reached by train from Tokyo in just under an hour e.g. there are some direct trains to Fujisawa from Ebisu station in Tokyo, and others from Shinigawa station. The restaurant is about a five minute walk from Fujisawa station, and the town itself faces Sagami bay, looking out onto the Pacific ocean. Fujisawa is, it has to be said, much less picturesque than nearby Kamakura, but it had a pleasant quiet feel to it after the bustle of Tokyo. As so often in Japan, the restaurant was in a little side street rather than on one of the main shopping streets of the town. Koan's head chef is Iizima Yukinori, who opened the restaurant in 2004.
There are a few tables but we sat at the counter for our lunch. Waitresses wore traditional Japanese dress and we were lucky enough to have one who spoke very good English (she turned out to be a student, waitressing part time). The meal began with a little dish of bamboo shoots, nori (seaweed), a vinegar dressing and a shellfish called a horned turban (aka turbo shell). The bamboo was very tender (15/20), which is more than could be said for the horned turban, though as this is the first time I have eaten this I will not pass judgement on it.
This was followed by soup with shrimp, carrot and jelly ear mushroom, and a local edible flower. This was very enjoyable, the shrimp tender, the stock light and refreshing (16/20). This was followed by raw abalone and octopus. The abalone was of the chewy variety, which I had always assumed inherent to abalone until I tasted abalone at a few top places in Tokyo, such as Sushi Yoshitake and Ryugin. I am not a fan of raw octopus, and the abalone was not particularly good compared to the best I have eaten (13/20). Much better was crab with a sweet ginger sauce, the crab delicate, the sauce a nice pairing with the crab (16/20).
Sushi of conger eel was very pleasant, though again not up there at the level of the top sushi places in Tokyo (15/20). Next came a selection of little dishes. Cooked trout came with roast duck wrapped around a vegetable filling, bamboo tempura wrapped with ham, bamboo, tomato, a local bean, a little leaf bud and wheat gluten. The duck was the star for me, with lovely flavour, though the trout was also good if cooked a fraction long, while the vegetables were good (15/20).
This was followed by a soup of bamboo and baby aubergine. The latter had particularly good flavour and was carefully cooked, the bamboo was tender and the vegetable stock light and seasoned well (15/20). At this stage a rice dish arrived with pickles, always the last savoury dish of a kaiseki meal. In this case the dish was more interesting than just a plain bowl of rice, served here with egg and shiitake mushrooms and a subtle sesame dressing.
Dessert was a bean paste a stretchy green concoction that defied translation; looking like something from a Dr Who episode, this is something that is clearly best appreciated by Japanese people. It was followed by an exquisitely pretty presentation of fresh fruit, the orange, strawberry and milk mousse arranged with cherry blossom and a little lacquer screen. The fruit itself was lovely, the strawberry having excellent flavour.
Overall the experience at Koan was very pleasant, and although for me the food was not quite up there in the league of top Kyoto kaiseki restaurants, neither was the price. The bill came to ¥19,000 for two including drinks, which works out to £73 a head. Hardly excessive for the level of effort that went into the food. Service was utterly charming, from our superb waitress through to the very welcoming chef and hostess. At the end of the meal, as we prepared to head off back to the railway station to return to Tokyo, our waitress insisted on walking us back to the station to ensure we found it all right and bought the right ticket. How often has that happened to you at a restaurant in Europe?