Sure, you may have tried the finest, most famous, star-winning restaurants within Tokyo’s numerous offerings. You may have also experienced the most authentic, high-end Japanese cuisine and have been accustomed to the tentativeness of typical Japanese customer service. However, have you experienced the true, sincere hospitality of Japanese cuisine? This was my first Tokyo experience, at Shinjyuku Kappo Nakajima.
Right through the doors, I was first welcomed by Mrs. Nakajima, who gently took my jacket and showed me to my seat. She, and a young female chef explained every dish to me, ingredient by ingredient, method by method, in English. Despite the difficulty in finding exact translations for some Japanese ingredients, Mrs. Nakajima keeps an English encyclopedia of ingredients to show her guests what they are eating. To be honest, there were a few words that even I didn’t know as a native speaker. I truly admire her dedication and effort in making her guests comfortable.
Chef Nakajima was even more impressive. As I watched him arrange layers of sashimi on the dishes at the counter, I could tell from his gaze that he has very high expectations for his work. One minute, I heard him teach his apprentices, and the next, his laughter as he jokes with his guests.
Throughout the course, I also began to notice that I was served, not by a waiter or waitress, but an actual team of chefs and apprentices. When they see a guest coming through the glass door, they will notify each other to get ready to serve. They were always subtly checking how my course was going and the whole team knows exactly which dish I was eating so that they can prepare the next one. The next dish was always served timely and at the right temperature. I have never seen such great team work at a restaurant before.
Traditional Cuisine paired with New Creations
As with most Japanese traditional cuisine, the dishes within each course at Nakajima are “omakase”. If you have a special craving or allergies, simply speak with the chef and he will make arrangements for you. Since my table was conveniently booked through Pocket Concierge, I had the special course for ¥15,000 with 9 seafood dishes.
With my curiosity for cuisine, I initiated a brief chat with Mrs. Nakajima. She explained that Chef Nakajima uses the traditional methods of Kansai Kappo that he learned from his father. What is unique is that he pairs those dishes with his own new ideas to keep guests intrigued. “Many of our regular guests are doctors working in the area. They come every week and it is always his challenge to create something new for them,” she said. One example was the King Salmon Saikyoyaki dish I had. The salmon was preserved in miso for four days before being grilled, giving it a strong, salty taste. To balance that, Chef Nakajima served the salmon with a bouquet of summer vegetables, lightly grilled with very little seasoning.
I also really appreciated the thoughtfulness put into the flow of the course. An oily dish was followed by a chilled, tangy dish to refresh the taste in your mouth. One of my favorite was the Deep Fried Conger Pike Fish, which is a type of eel. It was deep fried in a crushed okaki (Japanese rice cracker) batter. The crunchy texture and the aroma of rice were pleasing bite after bite. As this was a heavier part of the course, it was followed by a vinaigrette dish, with thinly shredded potatoes, seaweed, and herring roe. Just like this, I was amused by a variety of flavours, textures, aromas, and artistic presentations of food, from appetizers to sushi to steamed dishes to dessert.
Like the last song at the end of a concert, the sweet corn ice cream was a magnificent ending to the course. You may imagine it to have the strong taste of a typical corn potage, but it is much more sophisticated than that. The light taste of ice cream brings out the natural sweetness of the two little corn kernels on top of it. Sweet corn never tasted so sweet before.
As much as I loved the food and the stylish, relaxing wooden interior, those are not the main reasons why I want to visit again. Rather, it’s the true hospitality. After two years of moving from the rural community of Nagasaki to metropolitan Tokyo, I had almost forgotten how nice it was to meet local Japanese people and be on the receiving end of “omotenashi.” Don’t misunderstand; Tokyo has also been very kind. I am just amazed by the comfortable, right at home feeling that came over me at the Nakajima’s. Over only a 90-minute dinner, I already felt a sense of attachment to the restaurant. That I think, is what keeps their guests coming back every week.
Book a Table: https://pocket-concierge.jp/restaurants/243774?locale=en
Address: Nichihara Bld.B1, 3-32-5, Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo