by Ai Uchida
A traditional house offers an exquisite
Kyoto-style dining experience
Ocha-ya Kosen in Nishi-Azabu sits quietly
among similar buildings in a neighborhood where one nameless
street leads to another, and in the night sky looms not the
moon but the eerily bright Mori Tower. Our eyes, however,
were drawn one evening to a few well-lit weeping willow branches
rustling outside a mysterious two-story house. As soon as
we opened the modest sliding-door entrance, the sweet smell
of tatami mats and incense so often found in older Japanese
homes made us feel like guests at some obaachans dwelling.
Walking through a maze of hallways and stairways, we passed
half a dozen occupied dining compartments on both floors before
reaching our own. Ocha-ya Kosen offers four courses (¥5,500-¥11,000),
the two most expensive requiring prior-day notice. We opted
for Koutaijicho (¥5,500) and the restaurants namesake
bottled beer (¥1,100) from Kyoto.
Chef-owner Senba, who apprenticed in the former capital and
perfected his skills in Tokyo before going solo in 1989, oversees
six Kosen restaurants and supplies stores with his original
desserts. He takes pride in offering an authentic Kyoto culinary
experience, maintaining his high standards of quality by preparing
each days fare at his Minami-Aoyama kitchen.
Our first course appeared as appetizers on a large golden
tray. Thick slices of emerald-green boiled wax gourd (also
called winter melon for its physical resemblance), served
with a tangy egg yolk and rice vinegar sauce, were cool and
refreshing. Its complement was ebi-miso tofu, shrimp paste
whipped with cream and molded to look like a small block of
soy tofu. Fluffy yet rich and briny, the morsels quickly melted
in our mouths.
Kosen has been a favorite of various media for this next course:
the original and playful nine bamboo-shoot cups, each containing
several mouthfuls of deli-style Kyoto food called obanzai.
The cups were brought out in a lidded box, and discovering
their varied contents was half the fun. The other half, of
course, was sampling each serving. Our favorites were boiled
cherry tomatoes with a creamed asparagus sauce, summer turnips
with slices of sesame-flavored beef, threaded pike conger
with yuzu dressing, and fresh soy milk skin with grated horseradish.
Our dinner continued with a hot, clear soup with plump fish
dumplings; a slice of steamed kabocha pumpkin glistening with
a fragrant and vibrantly colored green-tea sauce; crispy ribbonfish,
grilled and then marinated in broth; and an order of plum
wine. The savory ending, a large ceramic pot with freshly
cooked rice and a whole snapper, would easily have fed two
more diners, but thankfully the staff offered to have it made
into a rice ball to take home. Finally, a sweet and sour ruby-red
grapefruit jelly confirmed our suspicion that with Ocha-ya
Kosen we had indeed stumbled upon something special.
1-4-5 Nishi-Azabu, Minato-ku. Tel:
03-5772-6806. Open Mon-Sat and hols 5:30pm-midnight (LO 11pm).
Nearest stn: Roppongi. kosen1008.co.jp