Up till now (apart from our stay in Hakone), we had been staying in the Tachikawa Grand Hotel, near Tachikawa Station. Today though, we re-packed all of our bags and moved to a fancy swanky hotel, called The New Otani. Apparently our uncle, who works in tourism, was able to get us one of the fanciest rooms for a fraction of the cost, and we had an excellent view of the hotel gardens and from a distance, Mount Fuji!
After dropping off our bags, we took the metro to Ginza. Ginza is famous for being the backdrop of famous manga/anime series “Detective Conan”, as well as for being one of the most luxurious shopping districts in the world. But we didn’t come here to shop…we came here to eat! More specifically, we came here to experience Kaiseki, a traditional multi-course meal served in small and delicate serving sizes.
The restaurant, called Umenohana, was tucked away on the top floor of a nondescript building. But once inside, it was as if we were transported into a traditional Japanese garden, albeit with artificial lighting. There was a mini-stream with koi fish, bamboo archways, and plants. We had to walk down a short pathway to our reserved room, which we entered by crouching down through a little doorway…
And we were seated in a tiny room for 4.
According to Wikipedia, “kaiseki is a type of art form that balances the taste, texture, appearance, and colors of food. To this end, only fresh seasonal ingredients are used and are prepared in ways that aim to enhance their flavor. Local ingredients are often included as well. Finished dishes are carefully presented on plates that are chosen to enhance both the appearance and the seasonal theme of the meal. Dishes are beautifully arranged and garnished, often with real leaves and flowers, as well as edible garnishes designed to resemble natural plants and animals.”
There was even a landline telephone that we could use to summon our super-polite kimono-clad waitress if we needed anything.
We were first presented with a menu sheet, which was all in Japanese so I couldn’t read any of it. Running it through Google Translate yielded me THIS garbled mess…
…so I had my Japanese-proficient cousin translate as the dishes came out.
The first course came in a bamboo box containing 3 small “appetizers” of sorts; cold morning tofu, something with noodles in it, and some greens.
Course #2, chawanmushi (an egg custard dish, and also a personal favorite of mine), and a salad with fried sweet potato flakes.
Course #3, but eaten in the 4th order, a pot with four (one for each person) little tofu things topped with cut-out sakura flowers. We had to eat this afterwards because the tofu was actually cooking in front of us, and we had to wait for the yuba, or tofu skin, to be completely done.
Course #4, but eaten third, some sort of dumpling with a shrimp mix on the inside. It came in an adorable little ceramic container designed to look like a wooden pail.
Now we could actually eat Course #3, since the yuba was completely formed. The pink sakura flowers were cut out of oden bits.
Course #5, two pieces of korokke (Japanese croquette), and deep-fried tofu. The tofu was wrapped in egg yolk prior to being fried. The korokke were probably my favorite bites from the meal, with lemon squeezed on them. Delicious. 🙂
Course #6, rice cooked in anchovy broth, and a not-quite-miso-soup (it was clear instead of cloudy) with yoba. By now, we had established that the thematic ingredient was tofu.
Course #7 was dessert; sakura ice ream and green tea. The ice cream even came with a single sakura flower placed on top. It was supposed to be edible, but sakura flowers are very bitter, as I soon discovered to my chagrin. The green tea was lovely though.
This was a relatively affordable kaiseki meal (about 3000 yen, or $30 per person), but it was still super fancy and took about 2 hours to complete. Kaiseki meals at top traditional restaurants can cost from 15,000 yen to even 40,000 yen ($125 to $340) per person, which sounds crazy, but given that it is considered part of haute cuisine, and there is a lot of effort into preparation and presentation, I would say that it is definitely an experience to be had. If that is out of your budget, there are cheaper lunch menu options (like ours), or even cheaper, bento-style kaiseki meals that go from 2000 to 4000 yen. Highly recommend!