Food without memory is just digestion

Thursday, 11 September 2008

A Star is Born - Yamada Chikara

Astro-physicists tell us, Gentle Reader, that it is a rare privilege indeed to witness the birth of a new star. More often than not, they say, an enterprising observer notices a shining light where none existed before. So it was with your Humble Correspondent when he stumbled upon the amazing Yamada Chikara [Map] in the hitherto dining desert of Minami Azabu 1-Chome.

This is the first time I've been so deeply impressed as to award 5 Forks to a restaurant in Tokyo, but this was - in the words of my companion-in-ecstacy The Musician - "simply the most exquisite meal I have ever enjoyed". Exquisite indeed, and unforgettable! Roll me in some foodie version of tar and feather if this place does not rate at least one star in the 2009 Michelin Guide. Actually... in any global guide!

Chef Yamada worked under Ferran Adria at the famous El Bulli as one of the amazing 42 chefs in that temple to gastronomy. Some scoff at molecular gastronomy, as practised at El Bulli or Fat Duck or French Laundry. They are welcome to those (old-fashioned?) views, but Yamada Chikara demonstrates a cuisine not built on smoke and mirrors, but offering substantial portions across 10 or more courses which celebrate the wonderful traditions of Japanese food culture. This is not your oji-san's washoku, but a truly new and playfully inventive take on outstanding ingredients and a sublime setting.

You simply have to try the Kinoa - a sloping bowl holds powdered, freeze-dried foie gras above a rich beef consommé. You eat the powder with a spoon of soup - and are absolutely bewildered by the sheer simplicity of the flavours and the creativity being expressed here.

Actually, some of the food is built on smoke - a cherry blossom-smoked anago (sea eel) wrapped around renkon (lotus root) causes cries of wonder and pleasure when one lifts the lid - a cloud of the said smoke escapes from the bowl. Amazing!

The dessert was mind-stopping - a spoonful of caramel glace that carried with it the koge (slight "burntness") of the kitchen with deep-sea salt hidden inside, and the world's most perfect Creme Brulee alongside.

The wine list features many delights from Spain as well as the standard "plus" French offerings. Service, by the delightful Mrs Yamada, is extraordinary and one feels cast back to the refined elegance of Heian Japan. Her years of training in the traditions of the Tea Ceremony come to the fore.

Yamada Chikara is the sort of restaurant that takes relentless courage and outrageous vision to pull off, and this wonderful husband and wife team have both qualities in boundless quantities. Some will tell you, Gentle Reader, that this is not "traditional" Japanese food. Very perceptive of them - it's not! But it is the future of Japanese food, and I for one feel privileged to have been here in Tokyo when it began to emerge. If Chef Yamada can keep up with the intensity of the spotlight, we are witnessing the birth of a star.

Yamada Chikara [Map]: 1-15-2 Minami-Azabu, Minato Ward. t: 03-5492-5817
Rating: Food: 9; Wine: 8; Service: 9; Ambiance: 9 Price: 8 ($$$$). Total 43/50

1 comment:

Joseph Mallozzi said...

Wow, sounds like a spectacular meal. Thanks for the tip. Planning a culinary pilgrimmage to Tokyo this winter and will put this one on the list. Along with many, many others.