You may not be familiar with Ren, however I am sure you have heard of the Michelin-three-starred Kagurazaka Ishikawa (石かわ) . In 2008, master chef Hideki Ishikawa-san opened the first sister restaurant Kohaku (虎白) and a year later, Ren (蓮) was born.
'Ren' is the Japanese word for 'lotus', taking its meaning of purity, Ren targeted to serve top quality Japanese dishes with a pure heart.
Serving top-quality Kaiseki courses, both Kohaku and Ren are part of the Ishikawa group headquartered in the food heaven Kagurazaka in Tokyo. Rated by the Michelin Guide with three stars and two stars respectively, alongside Ishikawa’s three stars, Chef Hideki Ishikawa is no doubt the “Joel Robuchon” of Japanese cuisine, with an astounding 8 Michelin stars under his belt.
Although Ren and Kohaku belong to Ishikawa group, these three restaurants have quite distinctive styles. The flagship restaurant Ishikawa offers traditional dishes by combining top quality ingredients, while Kohaku has a stronger fusion twist by incorporating Western ingredients as well. Currently helmed by chef 三科惇, Ren focuses on the original tastes of the ingredients without using exquisite ingredients.
In a show of loyalty to Chef Ishikawa and his cuisine, I visited Kohaku twice last year and here at Ren for the first time. Based on my personal experiences, my favorite is certainly the flagship restaurant Ishikawa. If you have a chance to visit Ishikawa first, you will find similarities between the food at Kohaku and Ren. So I recommend you only pick one of the three in one trip.
1.ウニと毛蟹の冷たい茶碗蒸し / Uni and Kegani with Cold Chawamushi
The meal started with cold chawamushi, topped with fresh sea urchin and Japanese hairy crab. It was a strong beginning - silky chawamushi, umami uni and juicy crab meat with a sweet aftertaste. Too with dashi jelly to bring a refreshing hint, the yuzu flakes nicely gives an aromatic kick.
2. アイナメのかき揚げ / Deep-fried Ayiname (female Ayu) with onion sauce
This is one of the most special Ayu (sweet fish) dish i have had. I did enjoy the crispy texture and delicious taste, the bitter taste was gone, instead, some sweet onion sauce was added for flavoring. While i personally prefer the grilled Ayu, the bitter ones with organs inside - that's the way Ayu suppose to be.
3. 鱧 きくらげのお椀 / Hamo soup with plum sauce, and black fungus
The following part was underwhelming. The hamo soup was not clean enough and quite lack of depth. Sashimi was Fukko, a quite mature kind of Japanese sea bass. In the Kanto area include Tokyo, young sea bass is called Loppa,the older one with approximately 25 cm body length is called Seigo; when it reaches 50 cm and is 2 to 3 years old it becomes Fukko and finally Suzuki. The flesh was succulent but even under the help of kelp, baby ginger flower and fresh wasabi, the taste was too weak to impress me.
4. お造り フッコ / Sashimi: Fukko
5. 黑鮑と肝ソース / Kuro- abalone with liver sauce
6. きぬかわ茄子 / Grilled Eggplant with white miso sauce
7.太刀魚 焼いた湯葉 / Grilled Tachiuo and Yuba
Abalone and its liver sauce is always one of the most enjoyable dishes while the portion of black abalone was too tiny, sauce as a major helper was not strong enough. Eggplant is also in season, unfortunately it was undercooked to become the most disappointing eggplant dish of this trip. Hopefully the grilled dish as a strength of Ishikawa works well at Ren too. The Tachiuo was perfectly grilled, i really enjoyed the creamy Yuba (fresh tofu skin) which brings a sweet hint to the dish.
8.金目鯛の鍋物 / Kinmedai Hot Pot
At all the Ishikawa restaurants, hot pot is a fixed routine as the last dish before rice dishes. Chef prepares this dish of each of the guest with a passion, this moderate-fat fish was cooked in clean dashi side by green onions. It was not bad while far behind to be remembered.
9.鰻とご飯 / White rice, grilled Unagi eel, served with miso soup and pickles
Natural Unagi (eel) was in season, similar to Matsukawa i visited two days ago, unagi was served separately by the white rice (but of course huge gap). The unagi has a hearty crunch skin, slightly harder flesh because of the caramelized outer-layer. I was some how speechless when i saw nearly half of the dish was grated radish, which makes the plating was quite rustic. The rice itself has a good quality and went well with the sweet unagi while lack of nice balance.
香物 / Pickles
10. いちじくと白胡麻のデザート / Dessert
Dessert is always a love. The Japanese figs was incredibly juicy and sweet, the white sesame sauce was light and creamy to enhance the fragrance of the dish. Of course Ishikawa's signature rum sauce cannot be missed in this part. A lovely sweet ending.
雑魚と梅のお握り / Jyako and Ume Onigiri
At last, check made some Onigiri (rice balls) infused by assorted small fish & plum for us to take home, breakfast with love and surprisingly, i liked it more than the rice at the restaurant.
Compare to my previous experiences with Ishikawa and Kohaku, my meal at Ren lack some surprises. Chef was not as warm as Kohaku's and i missed the entertaining Ishikawa-san from Ishikawa. Less communication here while the food was not good enough to become a topic. Not a bad try but i will just stick to Ishikawa when i miss his food next time.
Date of visiting: Early Aug 2016
Address: 4F, Omiya Bldg, 4-3-2 Kagurazaka, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
Hours:17:30-24:00 L.O.22:30, closed on Sundays and P.H.
Price: JPY 12,000+ (the only Omakase menu)