Pure and refined, bringing innate flavors to life, dining at Ren is a chance to meditate on the bounties afforded by Japan’s rich natural environment and the skilful and delicious simplicity of true Japanese cuisine. True to the name ‘Ren’, lotus flowers floating on a pond, the cuisine is deeply satisfying in its elegance, beauty, and calming quality.
A stroll through Kagurazaka in central Tokyo is like a lesson in Japanese aesthetics. Amidst temples, a cobblestone thoroughfare and narrow laneways, the gentle clip-clop of wooden geta on stones makes you turn your head, and you catch the graceful figure of a kimono-clad geisha slip inside an old wooden building.
From the busy Kagurazaka-dori, you enter an ordinary building, but beyond the wooden lattice sliding door a tranquil world awaits. Against the backdrop of an ink drawing of lotus flowers sits a meditating stone figure in a half-lotus position, and two goldfish swim playfully within their glass orb in an underwater bonsai garden – the setting is a picture of Zen peacefulness. It is a true reflection of the chef’s calm demeanor and the purity of the cuisine to come.
Focusing on simplicity, Chef Mishina is committed to drawing out to the fullest the innate flavors of his ingredients. Addressing each item, he contemplates how best to showcase its goodness, directly and without an ounce of fuss. As each dish arrives, it is clear what ingredients lie within, which is a comfort in of itself, and yet the flavors offer far more depth than what meets the eye.
Standing behind the counter, anticipation builds with each step of the chef’s preparation. The chef in turn observes and takes cues from his guest’s every response as the meal progresses. It is not simply about his expression and his food – it is a conversation between all the components that make the dining experience. Right before you, velvety homemade sesame tofu is seared for a toasty aromatic finish, and barely-cooked eggplant is brushed with a stroke of miso paste to accent the sweet flavors that emerge from the firm texture.
Given the simplicity of Mishina’s style, the quality of his ingredients is paramount. He sources his selected items through regular visits to Tsukiji and from farmers who deliver direct to him in Kagurazaka. He is not remiss to mention the importance of connections when it comes to fresh seafood and produce.
Ren’s refined and extensive tableware collection has been gathered through visits to galleries and exhibitions by the chef himself. The ceramic figure behind the counter is a piece by Kenichi Takanaka, a curious artist who lives a semi self-subsistent lifestyle. He makes many pieces in earthy creams and browns, inspired by his voracious reading of Chinese and Japanese classics, as well as Buddhist scriptures. Chef Mishina also particularly loves pieces from ceramic artists Jinenbo Nakagawa from Saga Prefecture, and Kazushi Sato from Mino in Gifu Prefecture, a region famous for its pottery pieces since the Momoyama Period in the late 1500s. The bold reds, blacks, and yellows show strength in beauty, and perhaps the most famous are the forest green colors of the Oribe style.