For hundred and hundred of times, i was asked about my favorite Kaiser meal ever, Matsukawa is the answer.
Matsukawa has been the No.1 Japanese restaurant in Japan on Tabelog for a very long while, it is also considered the best Kaiseki restaurant by a lot of locals and foreign foodies. Here, you can find a wonderful explaination of ‘simple is the best’.
Date: March.30.2016 (Lunch) | Last visit Dec.2015
Address:東京都港区赤坂1-11-6 赤坂テラスハウス １階
Cost: Same menu for lunch and dinner at $35,000JPY, Matsutake season (late Autumn) $45,000~
To be honest, for the first months after i visited Matsukawa last year, i didn’t really understand why – why so many people said it is the best Kaiseki place? The food is too simple, too orginal, most of the dishes are based on the quality and flavors of the ingredients themselves. After visiting more restaurants afterwards, i changed my view of Matsukawa, 100% diversely. While I can never undertand how can they get such amazing fish, the combinations of portion and elements of every single ingrients in the dishes are wonderful, the menu runs so smoothly…I believe by far or in the close future, no one can excess Matsuakwa from all the aspects.
Unlike a lot of chefs at the top Kaiseki restaurants in Japan who smiles at talks a lot behind the counter, Chef Matsukawa is shy and very focuses when he is preparing dishes (i mean, a bit serious). But he talks and communicates a lot after you finish the meal as he has done with his work too. My partner and i greeted chef with a deep bow and sit down at the 8-seat-counter. We were treated with a small cup of Sakura tea to start our meal.
The first dish is Hamami-gani (Japanese Helmet crab), or Togekuri-gani (とげくり蟹) which is a seasonal item only available during cherry blossom season. The crab was served grilled meat and its miso (ovaries) on a bed of steamed mochi (glutinous) rice, and topped with cavair.
This is indeed a incredbly enjoyable starter: juicy and sweet crab meat with indulgent umami crab miso, the caviar gives more texture and flavors, and the rice itself was perfectly steamed, so smooth and slight chewy. I wish i can have this everyday.
Matsukawa also serves one of the best abalone dishes I have ever had. The abalone itself is pretty aromatic, it is rubbery but more on the tender side. Very simple umami flavor at its best. On the side is Hokkaido sea urchin, creamy and has a sweet aftertaste. The jelly made of dashi is very clean but paired very well with abalone and uni.
A small dish of abalone liver sauce was also served on the side. The sauce itself is creamy and has a deep flavor, great with abalone but I still prefer its original flavor.
The top 3 Tai sashimi on my list: Matsukawa, Kagurazaka Ishikawa and Kyoaji. With a very plain looking, the flesh tastes very clean but if you think deeper, you will tastes it’s mildly sweet and oceanic flavors.
On the side is Shirako of Tai with Japanese ‘Ponzu’ vinegar and baby scallions was too delicious. Normally Shirako is served in winter but this season’s shirako of Tai is also pretty good. Shirako itself was creamy and umai, the sourness of the vinegar is well-balanced with Shirako.
As mentioned, i didn’t like this place that much right after my first meal here, whild i did admit the Owan (Dashi) was out-of-world. How could a bowl of soup being so clean, so simple, so delicious. When i started to rethink about this place and try to find out why people love this place so much in about a month after my first visit, Matsukawa’s dashi came up my mind again. As a key factor in Japanese cooking, quality of dashi decides all the other food at this restaurant. It is very hard to describe its flavor and my vocab is too limited, anyway, honestly, the best broth ever.
Of course, the Hotate scallop dumpling was very delicious too. Creamy while its chunks was textural. Kuchiko, or sea cucumber ovaries is one of my favorite delicacies. Its deep and savory flavors works well with the dumpling and the clear soup.
In Japan, spring is the best season to eat clams. The next three dishes are all clams, different types. The first one is Akagai on a bed of spring vegetables, the clam itself is fresh and crunchy. Second is Torigai which is also very enjoyable. Last one is grilled Mirugai with Sudachi (Japanese lime), tender, crunchy and delicious.
This big bamboo shoots from Kyoto is seriously the largest one i have seen by far. Chef Matsukawa showed us the entire grilled bamboo shoots and took out its skin in front of us. It comes with a char-grilled flavor and looks so good. The bamboo shoots was very tender and has a sweet hint, it was served with a pinch of salted but good enough on its own.
Before grilling our next course, chef Matsukawa showed us the alive Moroko fish from Biwako Lake – tiny but so nimble. It looks as pretty as Ayu fish while grilling. Each of us was served two grilled Moroko fish, loved their clight burnt and crispy skin (especially the tail and head!), the meat inside was tender and delicious.
Next we were served a simmered dish of grilled Amadai with spring broccoli rabe. It is not hard to tell how fatty the fish is from the picture – underneath its grilled golden skin was a layder of rich fish oils, the flesh was melt-in-mouth tenderness. The entire bite was not greasy at all but very enjoyable.
Last time i really enjoyed the grilled Japanese duck at Matsukawa, which is the best duck dish in my mind. This time the Japanese Omi beef fillet is also very memeroable. Moderate in fat and indredibly succulent and juicy, you don’t even need to really chewy it… Not your normal beef fillet comes with heavy and creamy sauces, this fillet is honestly flavorful by itself.
I thought beef is the last course and next comes soba and then rice dish, but noooo… so stuffed at this point. Sometimes my taste buds are no more sensitive when i feel full, but the followed grilled soft shell turtle surpringly ‘wow’ed me. With a layer of soy sauce outside which gives some sweetness, the meat inside is really tender and flavorful.
A bowl of cold soba noodle to clean the palate. Matsukawa’s homemade soba is also one of my favorite in town, it was made of 100% pure buckwheat powder, all hand-made without processing with any machine. The soba is quite chewy and a bit rustic as the real soba particles in it.
Next course is abalone shabu-shabu with fresh seaweed. Each of us was served a small hot bot with the clear dashi. The soup itself is very clean, and becomes much tastier after putting the abalone and seaweed into it for few seconds. This was also my first time having such fresh seaweed, it turns green as soon as i dip it into the hot pot, it has a special grassy flavor. For abalone you only need to cook it for no more than 10s for its best. Nom nom…
The last stop before serving the rice dish – a bowl of warm and hearty congee with abalone liver and spring scallions. The umami and deep flavors of the abalone liver went through the entire bowl, and the spring scallions bring a special fragrance.
By far the best white rice i have ever had, each grain is so ‘fat’ and juicy, just like pearls in the field. I am not a white rice person but i can finish this bowl of white rice without any compliments. Well, whats happens here is this rice is always served with his best 4 friends: Karasumi (mullet roe), Chirimen Jyako (whitebaits with Japanese pepper) , Ikura (salmon roe) and seaweed – all at the top quality, the entire combination is out-of-world, out-of word.
My favorite part beside the rice is Ikura, each roe is packed of super creamy and umami juices. Once its thin skin broke and all the juices goes into the rice, the entire bowl tastes incredible. What i usually do here: 3 bowl of rice – firstly plain rice, secondly ikura rice, thirdly, rice with all four compliments. Oh, i need this everyday.
Finish with the signature dessert at Matsukawa – Mitzuyokan. Yokan is a jelly made of red bean, Mitzu means ‘water’ in Japanese, and Mitzuyokan is a type of Yokan that is higher in water contents. This one is so silky and melts in my mouth into water in seconds. Served with a warm bowl of fresh Matcha, also one of the best.
Again sincerely thanks Chef Matsukawa-san for the amazing food. All the dishes are fawless, the simpliest, the best…Almost speechless here.
A lovely gift – jar of Chirimen to take home, deifnitely the best treat for a foodie.