When I first moved to Tokyo I made a long list of places I wanted to visit and cafes/restaurants I wanted dine at. Some things got scratched off right away, while others remained on the list for quite a while because I was waiting for the perfect occasion. When Naomi and I were deciding on where to go for our usual weekend meet-up, Yakumo Saryo came up as an option and I couldn’t say yes fast enough – I’d been wanting to go forever, and was waiting for a perfect time and company (J isn’t fan of traditional Japanese cuisine).
After a morning tour of Jiyugaoka we strolled about 20 minutes only to arrive to a sleepy residential area where a short flight of stairs lead us to a lush garden shielded by the familiar white noren, just like Higashiya Ginza, Shinichiro Ogata’s yet another brilliant culinary sanctuary. Our curiosity at peak, we quickly went past it and found ourselves in front of what looked like a private house. The charismatic maître d’hôtel greeted us at the sliding glass door and ushered us inside. The moment you step in you realize that it is a place where all your senses will be involved, a place that evokes an immediate sense of peace and calm. We were seated by the floor to ceiling window with a view of the beautiful garden featuring the blooming plum tree.
I was quite mesmerized by the exquisitely refined setting of the restaurant, its contemporary design so skillfully incorporating traditional Japanese interior elements that epitomize zen aesthetics. The light flooded the clean white space, the subtle and understated décor was very pure and uncluttered. The beauty lies in the silhouettes, textures and tonalities, rather than colors: a combination of blond wood, and dark stone in the opposite end of the dining hall which houses the cooking area. The tableware was equally refined and neither quality not the taste of the food fell behind the visual part of our experience. Per waiter’s recommendation we opted for the seven-course kaiseki meal, one of the three options offered during lunch. Dinner is invitation only, so unless you have connections, don’t even bother to try booking.
Like any other kaiseki meal, every dish featured local seasonal ingredients, some of which I haven’t tried before. For instance, the appetizer expertly paired pickled fuki, a Japanese sweet coltsfoot, and mashed sea brim and kuchinashi (local gardenia) jelly.
Next, we devoured the sea brim sashimi topped with the wasabi flower marinated in sea brim dashi. Unlike wasabi itself, the flower lends more subtle piquant flavor to the fish without covering up its umami flavor.
I was quite excited for the following course, so beautifully plated breaded fillet and cheek of the infamous fugu (puffer fish). It didn’t stand out from any other white fish for me, although I did enjoy it cooked rather than in a sashimi form which I had tried before in one of my local the sushi-ya.
Perhaps one of my favorite courses was served in two part: morsel of a plain white rice which was cooked and molded to perfection; and daikon radish in white miso broth with a dab of mustard on top. The latter was so tender it melt in your mouth, while the broth was absolutely heavenly packing the subtle umami flavor which I couldn’t get enough of.
We also quite enjoyed the grilled mackerel and vegetable salad, although the following course was a true show stopper: perfectly cooked wagyu beef sukiyaki served with a side of rice and pickles.
Sea brim made its appearance yet again in a totally new form in our final course: cooked and covered in a red paste (sadly the details escaped me), and served in a dashi sauce atop the rice.
The meal ended on a traditional note, with a frothy cup of match and a mochi filled with azuki beans. The waiter told us there is a green bird with black eye that frequents their garden which inspired this dessert. I knew exactly which one he meant and shared my photos of the bird taken in Atami.
It must have earned me some bonus points because after our meal was over I got a little private tour of the restaurant where he shared the philosophy behind the stellar interior design. Yakumo Saryo also houses a tea salon Baishinka where they brew different varieties of tea served alongside artisan wagashi. You can also enjoy their traditional Japanese breakfast served in the morning – something that went back onto my bucket list next time I find a perfect time and companion.
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