Keyakizaka, Roppongi

Food & Drink - April 17th, 2009
weekender-0089

by Robert Forrest

As I return from India, so two francophone friends are returning from Europe, and with the French preoccupied with job-hunting it left the Belgian in my custody for teppanyaki at the Grand Hyatt. We were discussing what his alias should be for these pages over a gin and tonic, though as his suggestion was ‘man of beauty,’ I think Belgian will suffice. The first ice cube had barely cracked when a chef sprang to life in front of us. Suddenly there was hissing and steam and a flurry of spatulas as bread was fried to spoon bluefin tuna tartare onto. I often dwell too much on the first course and leave little room to acknowledge dessert, so hats off to the mango flambé and then back to the zinging cool of tuna surrounded by a seaweed necklace so fresh it felt as though the tide had just ebbed.

While we copiously heaped these jellied rubies upon the bread, pools of batter dotted the griddle as crepes were prepared. A silver bowl simmered and soon a dark, musky mushroom and olive sauce lined the circles as two thumbs of langoustine were neatly bedded. Meanwhile, two cellophane bags of papillote bubbled in front of us like angry frog-spawn: there is little breathing space in Keyakizaka, and even less opportunity to talk. But you do not want to do that here; all you want is to eat and to watch, so when the last aromatic slice of the crepe had been diced, suddenly those bags split open to reveal codfish and cod roe in perhaps the best sauce this side of HP. The last time I ate from a plastic bag I suspect it was the contraband pork scratchings I have sent over, but they do not simmer and steam nor come flecked with truffle. Yet to think the fish was the intention of this course is laughable as soon as spoon meets sauce. I have to pause, to recollect, for I want to do it justice, to take the simple ingredients and expand their depth that recalls the sweet earthiness of morning air after rainfall in Africa, lent intimacy by the sake and tickle of vinegar within. With a sauce like that I need hardly mention the Michelin star bestowed upon Keyakizaka, though I am sure they would prefer it

Foregoing the tomato option next, I was curious to see how a salad could be cooked: quite well, actually, if you copy the squid and pesto of chef Osawa-san. But with our allotted beef in sight just beyond the griddle, eyefuls surpassed mouthfuls,

Keyakizaka beef dish

for ten days in India and a foiled attempt to bring in Bovril had left me on a low, and though Co-diner’s wondrous stew had welcomed me home, it was not until course five of Keyakizaka that my beef-deprivation could finally be suffused. Hot grey tramlines sandwiching densely packed pink sleepers defined the fabulous tenderloin we had, but the unctuous cascades of the Saga sirloin made me wish I had chosen a more zealous red than the 2003 Reininger Merlot.

A regal body mirrored rubies and the meek coconut and banana breathed exquisitely into blackberry sorbet, however this gentle red did not quite have the tenacity to tackle the meat. Compensating, however, was the first steak sauce I have ever liked, miso and sesame the color of marinaded canary, before the starch course of garlic rice shook my shoulder to awake me from this dream. This was served with a decadent miso soup, whose velvet clouds swam in the bowl fine as a Persian carpet. I should know: I just bought one. Well, almost, it is actually a frieze of 36 cows painted in gold leaf. Hunger makes itself known in mysterious ways; fortunately Keyakizaka is there to satisfy it.