With exquisite balance and an element of surprise enveloping a deep Japanese core, Kohaku has the youngest three-star Michelin chef in Japan, but its unparalleled appeal cannot be measured in any amount of stars. The beautiful harmony of a dining experience at Kohaku exemplifies the true spirit of Japanese cuisine, weaving together all the components of this country’s profoundly intricate culture.
The enchanting Kagurazaka never fails to make you feel like you have been on a journey to another time or place. In a small laneway off the busy, steeply-inclined main street, a façade of hundreds of perfectly aligned thin bamboo lengths has already captured your attention. Golden light slips between the bamboo, inviting you into the world beyond. Past the powerful painting of a white tiger, the meaning of the restaurant’s name, cream sliding doors, delicately papered walls, and a stunning flower arrangement adorn the calming wooden interior of the minimalist open-plan dining room. At once modern and traditional, the counter and table seats afford the perfect sense of privacy.
The youngest 3 starred chef
Chef Koizumi pushes the boundaries, yet stays true to the tenets of Japanese cuisine. Neither adding nor subtracting too much, and always with a twist, this is Japanese cuisine influenced by other styles and ingredients from around the world. Butter, bean chili paste, star anise, truffles, Shaoxing wine – these ingredients have no place in traditional Japanese cuisine, and yet Koizumi infuses them seamlessly into the cuisine of Kohaku. It works because there is meaning behind every combination of ingredients he creates.
Take for example the tender shinjo dumpling, a favorite traditional dish. Rarely, or perhaps never before, has it been made from the premium ingredient nodoguro blackthroated seaperch. And nowhere else does the chef first charcoal-grill the fish to liven the aromas and flavors before forming the dumpling without a single binding ingredient. The condensed flavor of the premium buttery fish in this surprising and sumptuous dish is proof that Koizumi can successfully take his cuisine not just one, but two or so steps away from tradition.
Chef Koizumi firmly believes that customers are the ones who truly train a chef. By paying constant attention to their reactions and every day giving it his all, he is creating something beautiful with his cuisine and the complete dining experience, to be savoured in that moment.
With the strong and unwavering foundation of Japanese cuisine, Koizumi’s search for ingredients always starts with finding the best components for dashi, as well as the best seasonal fish and vegetables so diners may appreciate a strong sense of the season. His shift to incorporate new ingredients meant a search for new trusted suppliers, which all came through introductions for which he is extremely grateful. Occasional visits to Tsujiki help maintain relationships with key suppliers, and bountiful ingredients are also shipped direct from the source. Curious to discover the regions and people behind his delicious ingredients, Koizumi visits the matsutake mushroom farmers of Iwate, shocked at first to see how deep in the mountains they go, and the fishermen who fish the deep blue sea of Genkainada off the coast of Fukuoka and Saga. He has such deep respect for the work they all do, and he wants to layer his passion on theirs, and bring it alive in his cuisine.
The tableware at Kohaku is all personally selected by Chef Koizumi, mainly through three preferred stores. With earthy colors, creamy tones, and simultaneous strength and beauty, the pieces show some consistency of style despite their striking individuality. A shallow bowl in the stunning golden and black-banded pattern of a tiger, the bold brush strokes of rice stalk ash glaze – each highlighting and complementing the delicious food cradled within. Many pieces were made by Jinenbo Nakagawa, in a somewhat rugged and natural style, many say like the man himself. With a first name that fittingly translates as “nature boy”, his old Karatsu-style pieces are fired in climbing kilns in Saga Prefecture made with earth the potter dug himself from the nearby hillsides and mountains.