How do you sense your guest and create a dish specifically for them? two Michelin star Japanese chef Shinichiro Takagi does just that at his intimate restaurant, Zeniya located in his home town, Kanazawa, on the west coast of Japan.
TAKAGI, Zeniya’s owner and head chef – working alongside his brother, Shin – offers no set menu. Instead the chefs go to the market every day to pick seasonal produce and cook intuitively to match who ever will be dining with them. A sense of the individual is first discovered when a reservation is made.
Staff ask questions such as ‘what do you like to eat, how long are you staying in Kanasawa? And have you visited other restaurants in the area?’ Takagi uses this information to design the menu. For example if a person is very tired, a light menu is planned on how I think they want to eat.
Cooking is in his blood. His father was a well-known chef. Takagi was at university studying marketing when he passed away suddenly. His father’s friend asked if he was taking over as chef and introduced him to one of Japan’s top restaurants, Kyoto Kitcho. Takagi moved back to his home town of Kanazawa, where after several years he became executive chef of Zeniya and eventually the restaurant’s owner.
Takagi thinks in 12 seasons not four and embraces the essence of Zen philosophy and the rituals of a Japanese Tea Ceremony: “Each moment is a once in a life-time meeting requiring a full presence of mind and emotion.”
Cooking at Obsession17 – a world renowned culinary event organised by Northcote’s chef patron Nigel Haworth and managing director Craig Bancroft, now in its 17th year – was Takagi’s first flirtation with the UK. He cooked for in excess of 150 people at Northcote headquarters in Lancashire. “We were very lucky to have him cook at the event,” Haworth told Eatnorth.
Not only did he bring some of his team with him but also certain Japanese ingredients that were difficult to find in the UK. The team at Northcote also sourced fresh ingredients from their network of trusted local suppliers. Diners were able to watch the chef and his team in action via TV screens but also had the opportunity to meet the humble chef who simply says: “I want people who love food to enjoy my cooking, producing food people can appreciate with all five senses,”
He hinted during his thank you speech of the possibility of a new listing in the UK. It may just be a case of watch this space.
The experience of tasting Takagi’s six-course menu was definitely an onslaught of the senses. The style and execution of the menu was nothing I had tasted before. The topic of conversation at the table was very much about the sensuality of each dish and it’s probably the healthiest I have ever felt eating six courses.
The Northcote chefs kick started the evening with well thought out canapes of chicken truffle, beetroot macaron with goats cheese cream that simply melted in the mouth and a cod cheek with kataifi pastry and Yuzu Caviar that was light yet crunchy with the consistency of shredded wheat. All matched with Louis Rodererer Premier Brut Champagne.
Then came the Kaiseki style (traditional Japanese multi-course) that began with sesame tofu, crab sushi and steamed eel – matched with Pieropan Soave Classico 2015.
There was no order to eat this dish but the majority of people on the table went for the steamed eel, followed by the crab sushi – absolutely divine – and the sesame tofu that wobbled like jelly on the plate. The wine with its clean vibrant acidity matched perfectly with the trio of dishes with their layers of complex yet rich flavours. The almond and nutty base of the wine overlaid with citrus, pear and mandarin brought out the freshness of the sushi, complimented the texture of the eel and enhanced the nutty flavour within the sesame tofu. My personal favourite was the sushi with its delicate light sauce.
On to the second course: Sashimi tuna, sea urchin, sea bream with chirizu sauce – matched with Sake Ikekame, Red Turtle, Junmai Daginjo, Japan.
Despite Kanazawa being a sake region, Takagi had not come across the Ikekame Red Turtle sake. The rich, smooth, aromatic spirit produced from the very rare black koji really brought out the ginger in the dish. Each mouthful produced complex yet clean flavours with the sake able to enhance the tingling mild spiciness within the chirizu sauce.
My only complaint with the third course, an Abalone (sea snail) soup– matched with Alsace Josmeyer Les Pierrels Riesling 2009, was their was simply not enough of it. This had to be my favourite course. The wonderful texture of the Abalone and the richness of the soup was complimented by the dry Riesling produced from old vineyards in Alsace: The citrus (lemon) and apple notes did not distract from the moorishness richness of this comforting soup.
The fourth course of Black cod cedar grill was beautifully presented in cedar planks. The smokiness of the textured cod was fantastically matched with Ata Rangi Martinborough Lismore Pinot Gris 2015. The sweetness of the yellow stone fruits with hints of honeysuckle, combined with the lacy acidity was simply divine.
Next came the Lobster Jibu-Ni – matched with Moscatel de Setúbal, Bacalhôa 2012.
An explosion of flavours from the fresh lobster claw served with Jibu-Ni (a regional stew from Kanazawa) and hot wasabi. The unusual, complex wine, with flavours of chocolate and raisins enhanced the meatiness of the lobster claw and staved off the shock of putting a mouthful of hot wasabi (similar to putting a dollop of horseradish in the mouth).
The final dish was traditional Wagashi. Sweets made from plant ingredients and Japanese sugar. The sweets coated the mouth, creating a dryish texture that transported me back to my childhood memory of eating Indian burfi, without the sugar hit. They are often served with green tea, although were still perfect with coffee or tea.
With Obsession17 now over for another year, it is definitely worth keeping an eye out for other events or tasting the delights at Northcote.