Ginza Okamoto - Tokyo, Japan

Dinner - Monday, December 22, 2014

Hidetsugu Okamoto opened his eponymous restaurant in the southern end of Ginza after serving as the right hand to Jun Yukimura at the 3-star Azabu Yukimura. Four chefs, eleven seats - a full-house this night. Our reservation was the last of the evening, and the kitchen was in full swing when we arrived. Okamoto is front and center, a blur of movement, talking little. There is only a single menu served - every diner is equal. A hot towel delivered, sake poured, and the meal begins.

Grilled scallop, pickled daikon, seaweed, shirako sauce
By self-admission, the Japanese are obsessed with their seasonal ingredients - December means shirako and zuwaigani (snow crab). This was the first of the former on our trip - every subsequent restaurant meal would feature it in one form or another. Here, it was made into a creamy sauce that coated the scallop sandwich (is this a haute version of the KFC double-double?). The crunchy pickled daikon in the middle had wonderful texture and a sharp bite to balance the richness.

Soba, toasted buckwheat seeds, grated karasumi
Our favourite dish of the evening. Chewy homemade soba (oh, that texture!) with crunchy seeds and flakes of grated mullet roe (I'm not sure why Okamoto's version is so yellow compared to previous versions I've tried, but the colour you see is a true representation). The salt in the roe, the roasted notes from the seeds - perfection.

A thick slice of mackerel, paired with an even thicker pickle wedge and wrapped in a sheet of nori. A deceivingly simple two-bite course - the slicing of the components was key to the excellent balance.

Mizuna, chrysanthemum, ikura
King crab, sudachi
Claw meat and roe, with a sprinkle of salt crystals and a squeeze of sudachi. Again, ingredient quality carried the dish.

Fried yam, pickled fish, tarako, so, shirako mixed with sweetfish
A fascinating assortment of tidbits to accompany the mizuna and crab dishes. The tarako (in this case, true cod roe) was deep-fried into a crispy baton - I loved the saltiness, but question the one-dimensional texture from frying.  On its right, a creamy block of home-made so, a traditional Japanese fermented dairy product akin to cheese (I had an online reference for this, but lost it - my apologies).

Steamed yuba, grilled amadai
First, a fillet of tilefish was grilled over coal to crisp it up, bringing out the flavours of the fat under its skin. The fish was then wrapped in yuba and steamed, finally settling into a gelatinous dashi broth (thickened with mountain yam?). The fish skin maintained its texture despite all the moisture, and the smokiness was obvious. The creamy yuba was a perfect counterpoint, and the clean soup was redolent of the sea. A really fantastic dish.

Sawara, grated karami-daikon, vinegar sauce
Snow crab (round 1)
Snow crab (round 2) 
Snow crab (round 3)
We were served two rounds of zuwaigani meat, grilled over binchotan right in front of us - objectively very good, but crab will never drive me into paroxysms. Round three was, as one of the friendly assistant chefs described it, "chips and guacamole" - arrowroot chips with a puree of crab tomalley. This was excellent.

Seaweed, grated mountain yam, egg yolk, wasabi
Daikon noodles, shirako soup
A very filling course of daikon noodles (still firm), scallions and other vegetables in a slightly sweet, slightly salty soup of shirako - milt overload. I could not finish mine, delicious as it was. The texture of the slippery noodles was amazing.

Steamed rice, chestnuts, maitake
Rice, pickles, miso soup
Excellent rice, and the sparse vegetable toppings served to accentuate rather than hide its flavour (I am not a big fan of meat with the rice course). Of course, at this point, we were only able to eat a bowl each, and ended up with a ridiculous amount to take home.

Yogurt sorbet, strawberry jam, anko
I quite liked the tart sorbet - it paired very well with with the red bean paste, which I typically find too sweet. The jam, with only partially cooked strawberries, helped bridge the other two components.

Ginger warabi-mochi
Our first dinner of the trip set the bar high - in particular, the soba, yuba and daikon noodle courses were superlative. We have not yet eaten at his former restaurant, but based on what I've seen, he seems to have stayed true to his roots. We really enjoyed Okamoto's slightly modern interpretation of kaiseki, and of course the gentleman is beyond humble. Worthy of a return meal (high praise in a city with as many options as Tokyo).

Ginza Okamoto
5F, Daini Ginza Column Building
8-3-12 Ginza
Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0061
Phone: (+81) 03-3571-5110