Friday, January 30, 2009

Genyana Hamadaya Nihonbashi

In December 2007, Michelin - the prestigious gastronomic guidebook that some say could make or break a restaurant - released its first Asian edition, Tokyo. The most surprising news is that Tokyo officially dethroned Paris as the world’s culinary capital (191 restaurants stars were awarded compared to 65 stars at Paris). Long before the Michelin guide was released, I already had a plan to go to Tokyo for the first time in more than 20 years. So, I found that the guide is useful to assist my dining adventure during my Christmas holiday. The restaurant that caught my main attention is a Japanese ryotei (authentic and traditional) restaurant, Genyana Hamadaya. Hamadaya is a 95-year-old restaurant located in Nihonbashi Ningyo-cho (the birthplace of Edo Kabuki) where guests can be entertained by Geishas during their dining. As much as my desire to visit this place, I was a little bit intimidated at first since some told me that many Japanese (classic) restaurants do not welcome foreigners period. Fortunately, my hotel’s concierge, Ms. Ikuyo Takeuchi did a fantastic job to secure a lunch reservation at the main branch (there is another Hamadaya at Akasaka, Tokyo midtown) for me and my father.

Hamadaya, as far as I’m concerned, only offers degustation menu known as Kaiseki. Kaiseki (some call it tea ceremony) is a formal banquet cuisine served in Japanese-style and is nothing like most Japanese food that we know such as: tempura, teppanyaki or even sushi. After eating at several European fine dining restaurants, I thought I know “what and how to eat”, however, this experience taught me that there are still many things I can learn and explore about the Japanese haute cuisine. Similar to the tasting menu in the French gastronomy, a kaiseki banquet is a feast for the senses consisting of multiple elaborate small courses prepared with rare, fine and seasonal local ingredients (mostly unavailable outside Japan). As we entered Hamadaya’s main entrance, the restaurant’s staffs, dressed in traditional kimonos and sitting in seiza (the traditional Japanese sitting posture) position, politely greet us by bowing until their head touch the floor. Wow … I thought it was unnecessary, but I guess it is part of their culture to show respect towards the guests. As soon as we took off our shoes, one of the staffs escort us to the private tatami room – it is very spacious, the size is about 4×10 m2 and with such a large table, this room would be able to accommodate 8-10 people comfortably. At first, we were seated at the waiting room and served a cup of ocha (green tea) as well as warm towel. Once it’s all said and done, the adventure begins.

Hassun: Hors-d’oeuvre. The appetizer consists of: Roasted squid with sea urchin roe, deep fried prawn rolled in dried laver (edible seaweeds) and crab meat with eggyolk - The squid and crab are fine while the prawn is good. Additionally, there is a mixture of carrots, cucumbers and mushrooms served with some peanut sauce - nice and refreshing

Wanmori: Clear Soup. The soup consists of: Taro potato, spiny lobster tofu skin and daikon radish - I like the soup’s broth; the lobster is tender but rather tasteless while the tofu and potato are not too bad

Mukozuke: Sashimi. The sashimi in the winter season consists of: Maguro (Bluefin Tuna), Sayori (Halfbeak) and Hirame (Flatfish) served with wasabi Japanese horseradish - They’re all fresh with good texture, but the taste is very light. Sashimi is served early in traditional kaiseki before our palate sated with cooked foods

Yakimono: Grilled Dish. The dish consists of: Amadai Wakasa-yaki (Grilled Red Tilefish) - dense, tasty and juicy; Kaki (Oyster) in miso paste with sweet-dark sauce; Saba (Mackerel) sushi - in generous portion and chesnut dumpling. I love this dish very much

Nimono: Assorted Simmered Dish. Simmered Ohmi Kabura (giant turnip), quail and Japanese vegetables rolled with fried tofu - I like the soft texture and light taste of the tofu along with fresh spinach. The "meat ball"-like thing is OK

Aburamono: Deep Fried Plate. Deep fried prawn (with fries attached to it) and brocoli - The prawn is prepared in "tempura" style, and somehow it’s not oily at all. An excellent dish - sweet and crunchy, even better than Robuchon’s crispy langoustine

Shokuji: Rice and Soup. Steamed rice with peas, crab omelet, red miso soup (Akadashi) and Japanese pickles (Konomono) - Japanese’s rice is arguably one of the world’s best, and this one is without exception, the omelet is nice and sweet while the soup containing some "seaweeds"

Mizumono: A Seasonal Dessert. Assorted fresh fruits (Honey Dew and Strawberry) and hot sweet red bean soup - The red bean soup is pleasantly delicious - rich in taste without being cloying). In, L’Arpege I ate the best tomato and carrot in my life. Here, I never think that a honey dew could taste this good - sweet, fresh and very watery, the strawberry is also memorable

The savory menu above is accompanied by hot sakeKiku-Masamune tokusenn from Kobe (This dry sake has mild and refined aroma with delicate and smooth taste. It is the kind of sake which would intensify the foods’ flavor) and cold sakeAramasa tokubetuhonnzyouzou from Akita (A flavorful rice sake with gentle grain-like aroma and smooth round taste with a slight bitter finish). I don’t know much about their sake lists since I asked them to choose for me, but given the caliber of the establishment, sake-experts and lovers would not be disappointed. As we enjoyed ourselves or admired the small garden nearby, the Okami-san (female proprietor), Ms. Keiko Mita came a couple of times to keep us company during our meal. Her warmth immediately turned the formal ambiance into a more intimate one. In addition, our beautiful maitre d’hôtel which happens to be the owner’s daughter became the translator during our conversation (Ms. Keiko Mita actually speaks some English). I congratulated her for the 3-star Michelin awarded to Hamadaya. She explained that since receiving the award, the restaurant began to receive many reservations and at the same time adding her more pressure.

Essentially, the service at Hamadaya is indeed impeccable – both the owner and the staffs (all of them are female) are very courteous and cordial. In any authentic kaiseki meal, it is important for the staffs to adopt seiza position since it means not only showing courtesy and sincerity toward guests, but also having significance related to one’s field of vision and the direction of one’s eyes. Furthermore, the tea ceremony is cooperation between the host and the guest – while the host will do her best to make us feel welcome and take care of every details, we also need to perform our part by being appreciative clients. Kaiseki meal is like a symphony; while the feast would follow one particular seasonal theme, yet each course features distinct cooking techniques and above all, everything must work in harmony and be of the best quality. I could not imagine if there is a substitution for kaiseki meal outside Japan. It is true that the food here is not the best I have ever had; nevertheless the experience is unique and unforgettable especially the hospitality. After we finished our meal, Ms. Keiko Mita and her daughter gratefully accompanied and sent us out. The owner said she hoped to see us again. I would be more than happy to return here should I stop by in Tokyo again; hopefully next time will be in different season. Hamadaya is truly a temple of authentic Japanese cuisine. Please visit the website below for the pictures,

Food (and Wine): 94 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 96 pts

Overall: 94.5/100

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