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Yukimura

1 5 5.Azabujuban, Minato ku, Tokyo, Japan

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Chef Jun Yukimura trained at the kaiseki restaurant Wakuden in Kyoto and opened his own restaurant in 2000 (bringing much of his previous kitchen team with him), also serving kaiseki meals. This is kappo kaiseki i.e. at a counter rather than in a private room. Even by Japanese standards the entrance is hard to find. There is an establishment on the main street in the 5-5--1 building but it is some sort of bar; however I was kindly redirected from there to a small flight of poorly lit concrete stairs up which is a lift. Go to the third floor and in front of you is a curtain. Walk through this and you are in Yukimura, which is tiny. The counter is the main event, with ten seats arranged in a semi-circle around the chefs, and there is one regular table in addition to this. The nice thing about the set up here is that, unlike most counter arrangements of this type, there is no difference in height between the seats and the preparation area for the chefs, and no wooden partition, so you can clearly see everything that the chefs are doing. One example of this was watching the head chef slice eel very thinly and very fast with a large knife - I counted his fingers at the end and was surprised to see a full complement. Japanese cooks are famous for their knife skills but this was impressive to see.

We began with cutlass fish, which was cooked nicely, and served with roasted aubergine, which was tender though not quite the best I experienced in recent days; it was little softer than I would have liked (17/20). This was followed by a very nice sushi of conger eel, which had excellent flavour and good sushi rice (17/20). An unusual touch was a little piece of firm cheese, the first cheese made in Japan, introduced around 700 A.D. I don't think it will be giving Beaufort a run for its money any time soon, but it was interesting to try.

Next was a generous portion of salmon roe laid out on a salad of mixed vegetables, and a pike eel and mushroom soup. I had variations on this several times in the preceding days and this was the best version, the eel more lightly cooked and retaining some texture, while the soup stock was well judged (18/20). What followed was yuba, a delicacy made from the skin formed on the top of soya bean milk. This was not my kind of thing (and I suspect many westerners would agree), so it seems unreasonable for me to score it.

The next dish were ubon noodles with very good texture, served cold and with mullet roe as garnish; this worked well enough, but for me noodles are nicer served warm (16/20). This was followed by high quality ayu (sweetish) which are eaten whole, here presented attractively as a pair of fish, shaped in a sinous form by being skewered in place for some time prior to grilling. A little stock, which had a slightly sweet element, was poured over the fish and suggested the slight natural sweetness that was in the fish (17/20).

Next was an impressive piece of roast eel that had been wrapped around enoki mushrooms and then grilled, before being sliced for serving. This had excellent mushrooms and tasty eel (18/20), I was impressed now by simple slices of cooked yam, which had superb flavour; the quality of Japanese vegetables really is impressive - to make such a simple thing lovely relies on the highest grade of produce (18/20).

The main course was aubergine with bite-sized pieces of grilled duck, which was very tasty, the duck meat excellent (17/20). This was followed by deep fried tofu, placed in a bowl of light soup with mushrooms, and was certainly superb tofu (17/20). The traditional rice with pickles and miso was enhanced considerably by the addition of excellent chestnuts and a generous portion of the wildly expensive matsutake mushrooms that were in season at this time; the pickles were also very good (18/20),

Although not on the menu, at this point my neighbouring diner, with whom we had been chatting to intermittently (the curved counter setting made for a very informal and friendly atmosphere) seemingly had asked the chef to bring out a little treat for me. This turned out to be some nothing other than a little dish of matsusaka beef, one of the very finest wagyu cattle brands, a little like Kobe meat but tasting for me a bit beefier than Kobe, which can be so buttery you can almost forget you are eating beef. This was stunning (19/20 is probably too mean a score). The meal ended with a pleasant milk and marscapone pudding, offered with tiny sugar like lumps which had space dust inside (16/20)

The bill for two, with plenty of beer and a little sake, came to ¥56,000 for two (£212 per head). This was a very enjoyable meal, the intimate counter setting enabling plenty of interaction between chefs and diners, and to see the skills of the chefs as they prepared the final stages of the dishes. The head chef seemed quite an extrovert, and although he spoke little English our kindly diner next to us translated where necessary, so we felt quite involved in the proceedings. It was a remarkably relaxed, friendly environment in which to eat.

 

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