To start, a special tofu from Kyoto, a place well known for its soy products, especially tofu and the prized yuba - the top layer which forms as tofu is being processed, and which stars in many Kyoto meals. This tofu was smooth yet almost has a bite and grain which allows the very subtle taste of the tofu to come through as you let it linger on your palate, using only your tongue and gums to break it down slowly. Hiromi requested that we eat part of it neat, and part of it using an Okinawa salt that gave it another dimension but without being too salty.
Then, the vinegared jellyfish from Genkainada. A variation of the usual Shanghainese starter of jellyfish or jellyfish heads with Zhejiang vinegar, this version was similarly a great appetiser. This Genkainada version was a lot crunchier and soaked up the vinegar well, making it more stark than the Shanghainese variety, and immediately perks you up.
The gingko nuts from Kumamoto pan roasted with rock salt then soothed our palates with a subtly sweeter and chewier nut than is usually eaten. These were addictive and the contrast of the sweet and salty were perfected harmony and prepared us for the choice sashimi to be served.
This rare clam from Hiroshima we were told only has 1cm of edible part out of 20cm. So much so that the perfectly crunchy and sweet piece of flesh hidden beyond a long abyss of "liver" takes skill to extract from its shell and this very pretty piece of flesh with bright orange patches can then be enjoyed by the lucky few.
The mantis shrimp or Nama Shako is rarely served as sashimi in its raw form because of the skill involved in deshelling it in that state. While most chefs will therefore quickly poach it before deshelling, Koichi san is one of 4 or 5 chefs in Japan who are capable of letting his guests savour this very sweet piece of crustacean in this form. And the result is more amazing than a piece of sweet shrimp. The mantis is sweeter, moister, softer and less chewy so it is almost melt in your mouth.
Other selections on the sashimi platter included the flathead from Chiba, amberjack from Genkainada and of course, a piece of fatty Toro to finish off.
After the excitement of the ocean, back to the earth with seasonal chestnuts steamed in a slightly sweet sauce. Chestnuts are almost always eaten without the brown layer of skin encasing the fruit, however in this case, Koichi chooses to steam them with the bitter skin on and as alchemy would have it, any trace of bitterness is gone after the steaming process and the fruit retains its juicy sweetness on the inside and it is one of the sweetest chestnuts you will eat.
Also from the earth, the famous corn from Hokkaido which is eaten raw because that is how sweet it is. So sweet that Japanese term this a fruit corn rather than a sweet corn. In this version, Koichi san just lightly heats the surface of the cob to allow the sweetness to come through even more, and Hiromi san kindly brings us some raw kernels for us to compare. The raw is fresher in taste, but the heated version is sweeter. Chemistry is a wonderful thing.
For our main dish, Hiromi san fed us the grilled head of the Amberjack from which we had some sashimi earlier. The meat is fall off the bone fresh, of course, and while cottony, is likely grilled with rock salt to retain moisture. Perfect with a squeeze of lemon and grated radish.
While we were eager to try the grilled Saga beef recommended by Hiromi san, she knew we weren't physically able to by this stage of the game. So we requested for some rice dish to round off. Hiromi looked at our faces, rubbed her belly and goes "I think we only give you a half portion". Gee, thanks. But she was right as usual. The Futomaki she brought out was a yummy roll of sashimi bits with Japanese omelette and cucumber enveloped in good grains of rice. My only complaint (and this is of the entire night) was that the seaweed was a little flacid by the time the roll was delivered making it extremely difficult to chew through with one bite.
Warm miso soup with clams to bring us to a comforting finish of what was an extremely educational food tour of Japan courtesy of Hiromi san and made delicious by Koichi san.
And of course, no Kaiseki is complete without a finale of more Japanese produce, this time sweet and crunchy persimmon from Niigata (the only persimmons I eat since I hate the mashy kind), and of course the alcoholic Kyoho grape, just like drinking wine straight from the fruit itself. All prettily presented on Hiromi san's proud new fan-shaped plates from Japan, the "handle" which is a detachable pick you can use to pick up the food with. Brilliant.
Wondrous experience. We can't wait to go back.