Matsukawa is an introduction only kaiseki restaurant, considered by many, notably tabelog.com users, as the best in Tokyo. A friend of mine invited me there, but had last minute plan changes and I ended up going to Matsukawa alone. He warned me about two things before transferring his reservation on my name. It’s matsutake season now in Japan, so “expect to pay at least 35 000 Yen” (I finally paid 45 000 Yen plus wine) and “they only take cash”.
Maybe it’s the jet lag, or just me too excited to go there, I did retain the first thing but completely forgot about the second. At the end of my meal I faced one of those “only in Japan” awkward situations, where the chef himself was trying to swipe my credit card on his iPhone payment terminal (which he obviously rarely uses) and, finally, no one was sure if the payment worked or not, as I had an international phone number and the text message I was supposed to get, didn’t go through. (I believe it’s fine as I haven’t heard from my hotel concierge yet!). Anyway, it was quite an embarrassing situation, especially that the chef was so humble and nice.
Matsukawa has 7 places at the counter and one private room ( I believe). Atmosphere wise, is a typical Japanese kaiseki restaurant really, without much noise and without any, what we would call here, in the West, “ambiance”. (Just to illustrate how high-end Japanese restaurants can be, the older Japanese couple sitting on the other side of the counter didn’t say a word to each other the whole evening!)
Maybe because my first ever kaiseki experience at Kikunoi in Kyoto was unremarkable, I have never been a big fan of traditional kaiseki. If we forget all it’s philosophical and cultural meanings, traditional kaiseki can often be bland and boring. No matter how well and how much you know about Japanese culture, it’s not only about learning to appreciate the art, it’s a question of taste. Matsukawa follows the traditional Japanese kaiseki school, but his dishes flavours though are elevated to the whole new level.
Everyone seems to be an expert of good products nowadays, but Matsukawa-san products, like The Skinny Bib once described on his blog, are really “out of this world”. My omakase meal was a celebration of matsutake mushrooms. Amazing, big chunks of snow crab in dumplings with matsutake, yuzu peel and dashi broth; Japanese beef with grilled matsutake mushrooms; wonderful al dente cold soba with grilled matsutake mushrooms shredding… Pine like tasting matsutake mushrooms harvest in Japan is only less than 1000 tones, thus, the Japanese matsutake are very expensive and this year cost almost $1000 a kilo. Their flavour is quite toned down and delicate. They are also valued for their texture, which is similar to one of porcini.
The two dishes I probably liked the least at Matsukawa were frozen squid with its liver still inside, and grilled ayu fish with its roe coming out. The first tasted like an unseasoned, frozen squid with its liver, nothing more. The tiny ayu fish (a very common dish at kaiseki restaurants in Japan) usually has very little meat and is supposed to be eaten whole. Maybe the bitter taste of the fish with the skin, innards and the bones is just not my thing. The meal ended with two desserts – world-class matcha tea, nice and frothy served with yokan, and some fruit – grapes and grapefruit jelly, served in grapefruit skin. Judging from the unique way those grapes tasted, I am pretty sure they were from one of those Tokyo’s exclusive fruit vendors, who sell their grapes for 10 000 Yen a vine…