Japan is in shape when it comes to exporting its cuisine. Sushi seemed incredibly exotic before it ended up in every supermarket fridge, spurring enthusiasts to seek ever more sophisticated — and expensive — experiences. Raw Aged Fishfor example, or work out omakase menus. Now Roketsu has a new treat for Japanophiles: London’s first authentic kaiseki restaurant
What is Kaiseki?
“Regarded as the highest form of Japanese cuisine,” he said financial times, Kaiseki is “a formal meal consisting of about a dozen carefully prepared dishes served in a prescribed order”. Its origins lie in the ceremonial meals served to Buddhist monks and it maintains a monastic sense of discipline. In the (slightly) less formal omakase tradition, “the upcoming courses may be tailored to the guest based on their reaction to the food,” the said Michelin Guide, but “Kaiseki is a prescribed set of dishes dependent on seasonal produce”. The rotation of the earth takes precedence over the whims of the chef.
“Designed to create lasting memories, the experience of the meal goes beyond the edible,” he said CNN. “Traditionally served on a tatami mat Ryokan” or inn, the meal was taken in a simple room free from distraction. That custom has survived: today’s kaiseki restaurants are a study in uncomplicated elegance, “characterized by a tranquil atmosphere with subdued lighting and elegant tableware,” said Enjoy Japan. But while the setting may be low-key, the food has become increasingly sophisticated. In Japan, such meals are “reserved for special occasions, including seasonal festivals, birthdays, and anniversaries.” time out.
Kaiseki at Roketsu
According to Daisuke Hayashi, owner and chef of Roketsu, until now, Londoners have only been treated to a Westernized taste of kaiseki. Speaking from experience, he’s worked at Sake No Hana and Chrysan, both of which offered menus inspired by the Kaiseki tradition, alongside other Japanese cuisines. Roketsu, on the other hand, is dedicated to kaiseki and nothing but kaiseki.
The obsession with authenticity extends to the interiors, which were crafted in Kyoto from 100-year-old hinoki, a species of Japanese cypress, and shipped to London. There are only ten place settings in front of the wooden counter where Hayashi prepares the daily specials. Reservations can be difficult to come by.
The menu changes frequently, but in early April it started with white asparagus, the most seasonal ingredient. Pureed, seasoned with small bits of crispy Wagyu and served cool in a small glass bowl, it honored the roots of kaiseki in purity and simplicity. Next came the hassun a representation of the season’s bounty, of course, which is expressed both in the craftsmanship of the presentation and in the kitchen. Lobster, shrimp, avocado, duck, sea bream and tulip-shaped cross-sections or squid were arranged on a silver-plated plate decorated with the cherry blossoms that characterize the Japanese spring (below). Later there was more lobster, the flesh of which was extracted from the shell and deep-fried in a light batter, lending the dish a satisfyingly sacrilegious touch of fish and chips. The combination with a couple of fat peas suggested that this was no coincidence.
With courses of grilled fish, sashimi, wagyu and sticky rice with scallops, this is by no means an exercise in monastic restraint. However, a sense of ritual provides a useful alibi. Guests can leave Roketsu feeling that they have enjoyed not only excellent food but also cultural enlightenment.
Kaiseki at Roketsu12 New Quebec Street, W1: £190 per person
https://www.theweek.co.uk/arts-life/food-drink/956457/roketsu-london-the-rarefied-japanese-art-of-kaiseki Roketsu London Restaurant Review: What is Kaiseki?