Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Hiroshima Three Stars

When we found out our friend C and J were travelling in a similar itinerary as ours in Japan at around the same time, we made plan to meet up in Hiroshima over a dinner at Nakashima, a restaurant receiving the top honor in the special edition of the local Michelin Guide a couple of years ago.

The restaurant is located close to the Hiroshima train station (with a comfortable 20 minute walk), with the entrance at the corner at a discreet backstreet a block away from the streetcar station. While we had no problem getting our reservation with the help of our hotel concierge a couple of weeks in advance, the restaurant was quite full on the day we went, with all 8 seats at the counter and a small table at the back all taken by customers.

The place was said to served “Kisetsu Ryori”, or seasonal cuisine based on freshest ingredients found in different times of year. There’s no menu being offered but you have a choice of two price points of either 10000 yen or 15000 yen set when you book, and we decided to go for the latter, thinking it’s great value compared to restaurants of the similar caliber in bigger cities like Osaka and Tokyo, or even Kyoto. Behind the open kitchen was Chef/Owner Tetsuo Nakashima, who opened this restaurant in 2006.

We were shown the wasabi used - look at how big it is compared to the usual ones we saw elsewhere! It's locally grown
Our meal began soon after we settled down with a small bowl of marinated "sansei", or seasonal mountain vegetables and octopus, served cold with a light ponzu sauce. That was followed by a sashimi "platter" served in a deep dish, with slices of aji (horse mackerel), steamed abalone, and squid wrapped with sea urchins. English menu was provided to us and Nakashima-san took effort to explain to us where each of the ingredients came from (aji was caught at the nearby Seto Inland Sea, abalone from Ehime, etc) – always a good sign of showing care with details to the ingredients he got daily from the market.

Third course was a few pieces of thinly sliced sea bream, served with strips of chives, spicy radish mash (momiji oroshi) and ponzu sauce on the side. One had to roll up the condiments with the fish then lightly dip into the sauce to eat. I love the bouncy texture and the mild flavor of the white fish.

The signature dish at Nakashima was the Dashi, or the superior soup. It’s traditionally considered the "mother" stock of Japanese cuisine and here it instead took the center stage as our "Futamono" course. The clear soup was loaded with flavor, cooked with local fish, and served with a piece of kinmedai (golden-eye snapper) and some seasonal vegetables. Almost as impressive as the food itself was the utensils they were served – each course was presented with beautiful ceramics dated back centuries kept in excellent conditions – some with simpler design and some were more elaborate. I felt like they were almost too delicate to hold but delightful to look at.

We went on for another fish course, this time a grilled fillet of Nodoguro (Blackthroat seaperch) from Kyushu. It was served with a thin slice of ginger "jelly" wrapped in piece of paper and a small stalk of myoga, a young Japanese ginger. The condiments certainly balanced the fatty taste of the fish, and the fish itself was excellently cooked with scored skin grilled crisp with smoky taste. Another grilled dish followed, this time a couple slices of Hiroshima beef, served with pickled celery and salad. It’s not one of those types with super marbled fat, but it was tender and rich.

I was most impressed with the next few courses, starting with a bowl of steamed yuba, or tofu skin, with a piece of deep-fried taro and picked crab legs, served in a pre-Meiji period lidded bowl. A lot of different textures in play here and everything just came together in the most harmonic way for this ultimate comfort dish.

Next was another simple dish with great presentation, with thick slices of tairagai (pen-shell clam) slightly torched with a few seasonal vegetables (white and green asparagus and tomato) served in the original clam shell with some vinegar jelly. It’s simple cooking at its best – probably seasoned with just a light sprinkle of salt – and just let the original taste of the ingredients "spoke" for themselves. "The picture of spring", as the chef described the dish with a small calligraphy drawing done by himself presented to each of us alongside with the dish. A chef with many talents indeed.

Just as we were finishing up the last course, Nakashima-san brought out a big claypot from the back kitchen and showed to us the rice prepared for the four of us. Inside were chunks of sawara (Spanish mackeral) and mountain vegetables covering the rice underneath. It was served with everything mixed together carefully by the chef and into the bowl for us. We probably had more than a few bowls each and they were tasty. All of us recalled the tai-gohan, one of the signature dishes served at the legendary Yotaro in Osaka cooked in a similar manner, but we all agreed the Nakashima’s version (albeit using a different fish) was the winner if we compared the two. Our final dish was dark miso soup and house-made pickles, plus the dessert of strawberry jelly.

With more people we went through a few carafe of nihonshu, going in the order from the simpler junmai to the more delicate junmai daiginjo, all seasonal production on a very decent list of drinks menu, many of which locally brewed. However this evening my favorites went to the pair from Niigata Prefecture further up north.

To me it's one notch less refined than kaiseki restaurants (which should by no means be read as a criticism), but the cooking and ingredients were impressive at this kappou-style restaurant. Nakashima-san went back to the most fundamental cooking, using minimal seasonings to bring out the genuine flavors of the best seasonal ingredients he could obtain locally, and he did this brilliantly and so smoothly, making sure the dishes were prepared and presented at the perfect timing. And we agreed that the meal represented tremendous value for money for an amazing dining experience in this part of Japan.

More pictures in my Flickr album: https://www.flickr.com/photos/g4gary/albums/72157667606141861

When? April 26 2016
Where? Nakashima, 10-4 Higashi Hakushimacyo, Nakaku, Hiroshima
季節料理 なかしま, 広島県広島市中区東白島町10-4
Menu Highlights? Taro and Crab with Yuba, Claypot Rice with Sawara and Seasonal Vegetables
1. Houken Junmai Hattan Nishiki - Houken Shuzo, Hiroshima Prefecture
宝剣 純米酒 広島八反錦 - 広島県 宝剣酒造
2. Kenshin Aizan Junmai Ginjo (Unfiltered Unpasteurized) - Ikadaya Shuzo, Niigata Prefecture
謙信 愛山 純米吟醸 しぼりたて 無濾過生原酒 - 新潟県 池田屋酒造
3. Takachiyo Junmai Daiginjo Gensen-chu tori honjo - Takachiyo Shuzo, Niigata Prefecture
たかちよ純米大吟醸 厳選中取り本生 - 新潟県 髙千代酒造
Web: nakashima-ryori.com

Kyushu + Hiroshima Travel "Series":
1. Day 2: Motsunube Treat in Fukuoka
2. Day 3: One Dish Wonder
3. Day 3: Ryokan by the Park
4. Day 4: Oysters for Breakfast
5. Day 4: Hiroshima's Okonomiyaki
6. Day 4: Three Stars in Hiroshima
7. Day 5: Abalone Cuisine in Karatsu
8. Day 6: Top Morning Market? What?
9. Day 6: Hip Ryokan in Ureshino
10. Day 6: China on the Park
11. Day 7: Arita Ceramics Fair - The Real Deal
12. Day 8: Seiromushi Pit Stop
13. Flickr Album: Kyushu + Hiroshima 2016
14. Flickr Album: Food from Kyushu + Hiroshima Trip

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