Some restaurants have the ability to completely capture your attention for the duration of a multi-course menu. They make you forget everything around you, and create lasting memories. Tokyo's Ishikawa is one of them
One of the few restaurants revered by Western guides, and Japanese regulars alike, Ishikawa has a reputation for being at the top of its game in Tokyo when it comes to Kaiseki cuisine. It is therefore no surprise therefore that seats here need to be booked long in advance.
Anyone lucky enough to secure a reservation will be treated to some of the finest food on the planet. Ishikawa’s cuisine is very pure, product-focused, and minimalist. The first appetizer of a menu might be snow crab and rape flower. The crab is cooked so precisely, and of such quality that its meat is succulent, juicy, and incredibly sweet. A touch of spice, and a vegetal character from the rape flower create a contrast, and the dish is arresting, and immediately captures your complete attention at the beginning of the meal.
A deep-fried dish of rice cake, and soft-shelled turtle manages to evidence this balance between very careful seasoning, intense natural flavours, and a lightness of touch that seem to be the recurrent themes here. The batter is so delicate, and brittle that it feels like not a drop of frying oil has even touched it. The filling’s flavours come out clearly, not being overshadowed by the flavour of the batter, as can be the case in some Tempura restaurants.
That precision in cooking is taken seriously here is best demonstrated by grilled kinmedai (a form of snapper), which comes with maitake mushrooms. This simple, unassuming dish is a lesson in fish cookery. The meat feels like it has been exposed to the heat exactly for the right amount of time. Not a second more. It almost bursts with juice, flavour, and has a texture that is firm and tender at the same time. Just like the other two dishes, this is the combination of stunning produce, and remarkably dexterous cooking.
A meal here is memorable in a number of ways. The service is discreet, distinguished, and warm. Mr Ishikawa speaks some English, and is a very kind host, and his wine list offers a few rare gems such as Lalou Bize-Leroy’s great wines. On top of it, this must be one of the best “deals” you can get in town, when it comes to top restaurants. An evening menu is priced at around JPY15,000.
Anyone wanting to have a memorable meal in Tokyo can do a lot worse than choosing Ishikawa. It is a restaurant that serves food of a precision, and sophistication that make us want to revisit again, and again.
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