It’s dinner time! The little onsen tamago was delicious, but all I could think of is the exquisite kaiseki dinner we’re going to have tonight at Kokuya! We both don’t look too shabby in our yukatas, and headed towards the dining area.
“Look! My name is on the board!” I said. I was so excited to see my name written on the board outside the dining rooms and the staff must have heard me screaming, they all suddenly came out from the kitchen and greeted us politely (probably trying to find out who is the twat yelling outside). Then we were shown to our private dining room with the traditional sunken dining table. It was bit awkward trying to sit down in yukata, without flashing anybody! Once sat down, we soon found out the floor and seats are heated from the hot spring running through underneath us. I’m impressed!
Not long after we sat down, small bowls and plates were brought in and soon filled up the whole table. A small burner slowly burning away, cooking whatever is inside that we will soon find out. “Do you want some wasabi?”, the lady asked. “Hell yeah!” Then, she came back with a grater and the wasabi. Yes, the “wasabi” root! The real deal, not in paste! Soon enough I found myself grating the wasabi away…
This is my first time having the real fresh wasabi root. They don’t come cheap at around ¥1200 (AUD$20) for one. If people say the wasabi that comes in packets taste the same as the real wasabi root, then they are absolutely wrong. The wasabi root delivers a nasal-clearing kick, but not as acidic as those in packets, then it slowly mellows down to a sweetness after taste. Don’t get me wrong, I still like my wasabi in packets, but having the opportunity to try the real wasabi root is truly unforgettable.
Then the Kaiseki journey begins…
Firstly, I went for the assortment of relish basket which consists of – mushroom mixed with tofu, smoked Japanese river trout, prawn sushi, Shinshu Salmon and Grey mullet roe slices with radish. The tiny mushroom balls were so cute and just popped in our mouth. The smoked Japanese river trout is really smokey with great texture. But I especially drawn to the grey mullet roe. At first, I thought they are 2 slices of dry persimmon but somehow tasted salty. So I had to double checked the menu and soon realised it was grey mullet roe still in sac, sun-dried then cut in thin slices.
Next, I went for the Char and Carp Sashimi. Char? The ignorant me have never heard Char fish. I did bit of research and soon find out they are belong to the Salmon and Trout family. And Carp? Yes carp, those beautiful fish swimming in the pond at Japanese garden. Time to test out the sashimi with my freshly grated wasabi. The char fish tasted just like trout, smooth texture with nice fishy taste. The carp somehow is the opposite, the flesh is very chewy, and very subtle in taste. It took me a while to chew and swallow the carp, not sure is my favorite.
Next, the Tofu with Chrysanthemum sauce, a nice little palate cleansing dish. The tofu has a crumbly texture with black beans embedded inside, I finding difficult to grab it using chopsticks as it just falls apart. But it tasted fantastic with the aromatic Chrysanthemum sauce. Who would have thought you can be so creative with a piece of simple tofu?
The fire inside the burner just went out, right at the moment when I finished the tofu. Perfect timing! I can’t wait to open the lid to find out what are the surprises hidden inside. It is a BBQ dish consist of Shinshu beef, Shinano chicken, prawn, taro, matsutake mushroom, chestnut, and sea bream. I am surprised they were all perfectly cooked! The meat are moist and with great flavour but the seasonal matsutake mushroom (pine mushroom) is my faovrite. I’ve had matsutake during my last trip 2 years ago and fell in love since. Matsutake, it is almost as expensive as truffle, can go up to $2000/kilogram. It smells like pine, even tasted like pine. Seriously one of the most interesting mushroom I’ve ever tried.
“Burpppp……” All dishes on the table were empty. I am already half full, but soon enough the sliding door was opened, our friendly lady came in and started cleaning up the dishes and ready for the next round.
It didn’t take long for our friendly lady to come back with more dishes in bowls with lids. The first one I opened was Grilled eel with wasabi radish mash in sweet broth. I love unagi, so I am not complaining. The silk smooth flesh of the eel goes so well with the wasabi radish mash. Mr P had to stop after the first bite of the eel which reminded him so much like a snake. So I be the hero and took over his bowl without obligation.
The next dish is steamed sea bream with Matsutake mushroom on sticky rice. One of my favorite, good choice of steaming the sea bream, and it harmonises so well with the sweetness of the matsutake. More matsutake mushroom!? Nom! Nom! Nom!
I kid you not, we are only half way through the Kaiseki. I started to struggle with all these yummy food. Thought I will have a break from the fish dishes, and went for the Tempura with deep fried Shiitake mushroom, green chilli, and an agedashi tofu. By this time, there were a lot of groaning and burping of food appreciation from the Japanese couple next room.
Last dish for this round is the marinated radish with Char egg roe. The radish is marinated with Chrysanthemum flowers, then mixed together with the Char egg roe. The big Char egg roe burst with little pop on every bite, and the flavour is more subtle, not as salty as salmon roe.
Before we even able to finishing up the dishes at our table, our friendly lady already came back with more!
Next, is the hand-made Soba (buckwheat) noodle. This is also the first time I have hand-made Soba, and is nothing like those that I bought from Supermarket. The soba noodle is served cold with the white leek and radish in the mirin soy sauce. The unevenly cut soba is firm and bouncy, truly “al-dante” as you would call it. It has a distinctive sweetness in the noodle which I can’t quite put my fingers on what the taste is.
Finally the Kaiseki course comes to an end (Thank god!) with steamed rice and miso soup. I am already full to the brim with the Soba noodle, so I only had a few mouthful of the rice with some pickled vegetables and the mushroom paste.
But I do love the miso soup very much. There was a variety of mushrooms swimming in the soup. Some are big, some are tiny, and some are just like a ball. Those mushrooms really enhance the flavour of the miso soup. I definitely will try and put a lot of mushrooms in the miso soup next time when I make it at home.
You think is over? Haven’t you forgot we haven’t had the dessert?!?!
We finally concluded the whole kaiseki with a simple dessert of local apple simmered in red wine and mashed sweet potato ball. I am not really fond of the coarse texture from the sweet potato but the apple was really nice with great flavour of the red wine.
The Kaiseki dinner is truly an amazing feast fit for a king (or emperor). We were both well fed, drunk, sleepy and exhausted (I feel exhausted just by writing this blog post). It took us some time to get ourselves up from our seats, and left the dining room. On our way back to our room, we only realised there is a hole on the floor with glass panel which you can see the hot spring flowing through underground. How cool is that?!
It was all a blur afterwards when I got back to my room, and I slept like a log, dreaming about mushrooms…