Takiya is truly indulgent tempura – luxury ingredients in generous helpings at a price that is clearly worth it. Premium wagyu and truffles are among many unconventional tempura items that feature in an artist’s palette of colourful and enticing morsels that keep most guests waiting more than four moths for a seat. The chef’s golden touch and generous spirit transforms tempura into a total dining experience pairing luxury ingredients with premium wines and spirits, making for an unforgettable evening.
Just steps off the busy cobblestone shopping street of Azabu Juban and up one flight of stairs, a sage-colored noren hangs just long enough to create a divide from the hustle and bustle of outside, but short enough that a guest need not feel intimidated about pulling it back to peek inside. It bears the image of a sea bream, showing a deep connection with the sea, and beside it a wooden plaque with the hiragana letters for Takiya, the name of the family catering business passed on to Chef Kasamoto from his own chef father.
There is a purity about the shrine-like interior, complete with the blessing of the gods above the chef’s head as he works: the shiny copper dome of the frying pot; the granite floor providing grounding; the pale slatted wood windows with paper screens offering light and a sense of space; and a plump ivory crane, a symbol of longevity, cradling a posy of flowers.
The counter for eight is adorned with a selection of pieces in tin, lacquer, wood, leather, ceramic and gold – an exhibit of artistry that works beautifully together. The hallway leads past a giant stepping stone into a private room for four to six guests, for added privacy or a meal with small children.
Truly indulgent tempura
A plump and aromatic towel to refresh you arrives just before a series of condiments for the dishes soon to come: a perfectly shaped snowball-like scoop of grated daikon, and three homemade salts – deep pink and plum-flavored for a hint of acid, aromatic curry-accented yellow, and matcha green salt for a touch of bitterness. Added as you like to any of the tempura delicacies, one more salt – a perfectly balanced pure white salt that has been farmed in the salt pans of Slovenia for more than 300 years – is delicious with all the ingredients.
Each course is a contrast of taste, temperature and texture. A crisp tempura shrimp, accompanied by crunchy shrimp legs, does a somersault into the perfect position on a ceramic pedestal, which physically elevates each morsel, showing respect for the produce and the art of tempura. The signature shiso-wrapped steak tempura dipped in truffle salt has unbelievable flavor and an incredibly crispy texture that contrasts with the natural juices of the succulent steak. Uni sea urchin in nori with wasabi soy sauce fills your mouth with velvety deliciousness. And the texture and heat contrast is outstanding in the tempura nodoguro (black-throated sea perch) topped with uni which melts like a sauce in the mouth. Kasamoto’s personal connections with farmers help secure unique vegetables like white okra from Yamaguchi, served alongside seasonal vegetables like the fresh yellow corn, which bursts with sweetness. For a refreshing interlude, the layered fresh and grilled tomato salad topped with fresh onion and crab has a deep, sweet caramel flavor.
Cooked ever so briefly in 100% safflower oil, Kasamoto attempts to go ever thinner and finer with his tempura crust to enhance the innate flavors of the ingredients nestled within. From the moment you are seated, guests are greeted by a cornucopia of blessings from the mountains and the sea – abalone, okra, corn, uni, beef, bite-sized pork parcels – predominantly sourced directly from farmers and fishermen. Kasamoto visits Tsukiji to fill the gaps in his produce, searching for the ideal ingredients for tempura, and chooses not to restrict himself by settling on a single producer or region. Rather, he constantly searches for the best each season, excitedly heading off on visits to producers around Japan. He loves collaborating with farmers to perfect produce for tempura, and finds the visits have a deeper philosophical purpose – through the connections he forges, Kasamoto finds himself.
Takiya carries an impressive array of drinks to accompany the cuisine. The cellar is filled with the best in premium wines – champagne, white and red – in particular Burgundy Pinot Noirs like Richebourg, Romanée Conti, and La Tâche, as well as the full-bodied reds of the Napa Valley, such as Opus. If your palate desires, there is also freshly poured beer from a golden tap and wide selection of whisky. Sake lovers choose from a beautiful collection of Hagi-yaki sake cups in grey, rose, brown and deep cream, with perfect delicate edges for sipping. For Chef Kasamoto, it’s not about pairing with the food, but rather allowing guests to choose their favorites and savor the best that the world of wine and spirits-making has to offer. In fact, the drinks have inspired several of Kasamoto’s creations such as a tempura parcel of Kirishima pork-wrapped Gruyere cheese – delectable!