Devoted to creating a world of its own, the cuisine at Hamagen stands at the intersection between tradition and originality. Perfected by the chef’s commitment in sourcing the finest quality fish and his exquisite taste for antique decor, this rare Nagoya find scores equivalent of top gourmet establishments in Tokyo.
Taking over the family restaurant, Taro Suzuki has reinvented the small local eatery into a luxurious high-end restaurant in Aichi Prefecture. Trained at Araki, a famous Ginza sushi bar, the young chef performs his mastery to the lucky six guests at the counter with impeccable service and lively conversations.
Hamagen is situated on a quiet residential block, just a few minutes away from the house that the chef grew up in. While not in the most convenient of locations, gourmands from across and outside Japan make the effort to find it. As if a secret little art gallery, the black wooden entrance is subtle, set with just a small sign.
Once you step inside, you immerse yourself in a warm ambiance that marries traditional architecture with retro decor. Above a 19th-century English glass cabinet stretches a Saobuchi ceiling, an old craft that uses with narrow cedar beams. Behind the wide and smooth counter, made of hinoki wood from Bishu, is a statue of a crane, the symbol of good luck.
Tradition and originality
Hamagen offers only the chef’s seasonal omakase menu. The meal starts with a series of small dishes that is a beautiful fusion of seasonal flavors, textures and colors. Behind every dish are works of craftsmanship and hours of experimentation.
“Bonito and seaweed make an incredible combination,” Suzuki says as he embeds pieces of top-quality seaweed in a soy marinade to infuse the aroma in the fish. Served with sprinkles of sesame and chive, the dish appears to be a simple soy-soaked fish but the deep flavor of the seaweed unleashes in your mouth with every bite.
In a small colorful bowl are mouth-watering morsels of juicy botan shrimp from Hokkaido. The plumpy meat has been resting for a couple of days before blanched in sake, mirin and light soy sauce. Topped with emerald green shrimp eggs, first enjoy the gorgeous dish with your eyes.
Generous heaps of sea urchin and salmon roe are wrapped in kombu seaweed like a matsumaezuke, a pickled dish native to Hokkaido. The dry seaweed on the side is what the chef used earlier to flavor the bonito marinade. The umami-packed seaweed pairs beautifully with sips of cold sake.
The first nigiri of the meal is squid, matured for that deep umami and sweetness, followed by a beautiful pieces of kombu-infused Japanese halfbeak and green eyes, both fresh catches from Ehime Prefecture. The sticky texture of the green eye can be quite addictive.
“Sushi is such a simple cuisine, it’s really about the fish,” he explains. “We just add some work to it but the base is the fish itself.” Each nigiri is put together in Suzuki’s fingers lightly and gently. He is careful to serve each nigiri at its most appropriate temperature, with the shari rice cooled slightly for blue fish while little warmed for tuna. “It’s all about the balance,” he explains. “The balance between the shari (rice) and the fish, and the guest and the chef.”
During the course of the meal, he doesn’t dare take his eyes off the guests as they tuck into each morsel. To him, every subtle reaction is important in understanding the quality of his cuisine. The last nigiri is the egg, sweet as dessert, made without adding other flavorings like shrimp. Slow-cooked for over two hours, every bite is moist, delicate and soft.
Suzuki procures his ingredients mainly from Nagoya markets while always on the lookout for good local produce across the prefecture. He sources some of the higher-end produce like tuna and sea urchin from Toyosu Market. He has premium catches such as bonito, crab and abalone sent directly from regional ports.
The koshihikari rice used for the shari is grown in Uonuma, a city in Niigata Prefecture. He likes to use brands that have been dried under natural sunlight. For the vinegar, he blends in some stronger red vinegar from Yamabuki. The drinks are all to do with how they pair with the food. He likes to recommend subtle and cleaner wines like those from Burgundy. He stocks between five to ten bottles of sake, ranging from dry to sweet blends.
The ambiance at Hamagen marries the best of the East and West. The waiting room is inviting and relaxing, mounted with flower print wallpaper and a comfortable antique couch. The large wooden cabinet with glass doors dates back to early 1900s England, where it was originally used as a bookshelf. Now it stocks Suzuki’s precious collection of ceramics and glasses. The beautifully curated space is a reflection of his sophisticated aesthetics and his desire to make the experience the most memorable for his guests.
- The price includes our booking fee of ￥5,000
- The price includes our booking fee of ￥5,000