When the hamo (pike conger eel) arrived, breaded and deep fried to golden perfection, I was captivated by its unique garnish: itadori (Japanese knotweed), shoyu gel, and watermelon served with lime. Although deep-fried goes against everything I stand for when it comes to food, Chef Takase knows just how to capitalize on cooking methods and ingredients to highlight the briny creature’s natural sweetness.
Paired with itadori, the eel is sweet; its unctuous meat blending in softly. The savoriness of shoyu gel cuts through its density, while the petite slices of watermelon and lime bring my gastronomical experience to a bright and refreshing end. It could possibly be the best thing I have ever eaten in Tokyo, thus far.
Other highlights from Takase’s seasonal hamo course include the simply boiled hamo, presented alongside a rich and deeply aromatic house-made vinegar miso made with Kyoto miso, brought back by Chef Takase from his travels. It is just the right amount of sweet and savory; a gentle touch of spice that perfectly complements the boiled hamo.
Then there is pike conger eel sashimi, a neutral-tasting delicacy resembling its winter counterpart, fugu (blow fish). Its mellow flavor barely differs; its texture a little more tenacious than the aforementioned. Fugu is one of my favorite Japanese foods, and hamo is no different.
What I appreciate most about Chef Takase is his creativity. While hamo is typically served with negi (spring onion) and chili radish, Chef Takase serves it dipped in ponzu with seaweed jello, a yielding and creamy hamo liver (a highly regarded delicacy, rare even in Japan) and a most delightful ume dip. Every bite is pure bliss: lacerating sweetness, varying textures, crunch and wit.
In Japan, hamo is believed to have invigorating qualities, generating appetite during the hot and humid summer weather. The sashimi does just that. I especially enjoyed the thick crunch, anointed with seaweed jello – no bones whatsoever, all 3,500 of them removed using a hamokiri-bocho knife (a special knife used in removing the bones from hamo), showcasing skill and technique.
At Takase, there is so much thought that goes into a single dish – even the manner and order in which it is served ensures that your dining experience is nothing short of perfect.
Takase’s seasonal pike conger five-course meal is available now till the beginning of September.