Overflowing with originality, to dine at Tirpse is to journey through aromas, textures and flavors, and to witness the passion behind the delicious cuisine and warm service that earned this restaurant a Michelin star just two months after opening. Never failing to pique the curiosity of its guests, Tirpse puts a new spin on the seemingly familiar, with a chef who adds sense to science to share the wonders of Japan through food.
Along the tree-lined Platinum Street in the glamorous Shirokane neighbourhood of Tokyo, you will find genuine goodness in this sophisticated yet cosy space that used to be home to the highly-acclaimed Quintessence. Do not be intimidated by the large white wolf, bought on a whim – it’s the only new addition in this lovely welcoming space. Suede walls, marble floors, and a dark olive ceiling, you recline into a comfortable olive-green leather chair or take a seat on the black leather sofa that expands the full length of the dining room wall. A golden glow emerges from above the sofa for warming effect. The full-length glass walls of the walk-in cellar seem to beckon you to discover the bounty of beverages within. It leads through to a private room which can seat a large group or be partitioned into smaller spaces for privacy.
Journey through aromas, textures and flavors
Tirpse was coined from the Japanese concept of tamashi, or spirit. ‘Esprit’ spelled backwards, the name symbolizes how sometimes we recognize something but don’t understand it, and taking the next step to comprehension requires a conversation. The cuisine at Tirpse draws us into a conversation and makes us look at things from a new perspective. Following traditions of Japanese cuisine, the focus is undoubtedly on seasonal ingredients, but the starting point for Chef Tamura is a desire to achieve certain aromas and effects with those ingredients. Not a single item on the plate is superfluous – great thought and purpose goes into every ingredient and every method. And apart from a small number of signature dishes, the menu changes every one to two months.
In a course of innovative dishes interweaving new and familiar components, the chef deconstructs the components of an aroma from one ingredient or dish and recreates it using totally new ones. For example, shungiku edible chrysanthemum contains aroma compounds for Japanese parsley, fennel, yuzu and almond. To recreate the aromas and flavors of shungiku in greater depth than the single ingredient alone can offer, Tamura combines fennel marinated in Japanese parsley and yuzu with shungiku puree and an almond milk foam to great effect. The chef starts the course with a tasting plate that showcases his classic French training. With the plate actually inverted, it sends a message that his foundations are in classic French, but the manifestation of his cuisine is quite different. A bergamot chip topped with ricotta cheese, bergamot peel confiture, and fine strips of finger lime and mitsuba trefoil; an onion puree tuile that takes on the sweet caramelized flavors of the southern French dish pissaladière with anchovy and black olive; and a play on the traditional French pomme dauphine, with a fried dumpling of Hokkaido-grown inka no mezame potato mixed with choux pastry and a sprinkling of the deep orange and slightly nutty mimolette cheese.
Next, you may think you have been served a gourmet version of the everyday Japanese confection warabi mochi, but this is in fact an oyster. Cooked in garlic and its own juice to heighten the briny taste sensation, and topped with dried grated potato skin powder mixed with Dukkah spices, it’s glossy appearance and aroma like kinako toasted soybean powder is a trick for the senses. One of the chef’s specialties is a squid dish using traditional Japanese knifework called matsukasa kiri (pine cone cut). A play on a traditional tomato-simmered squid dish, squid innards mixed with tomato, paprika and saffron are incorporated into risotto, and given even deeper flavor through the recreation of an ancient Japanese ‘cheese’ called so with added Japanese fish sauce. The brilliant white squid is juxtaposed with jet-black squid ink lace and pure, glossy lily bulbs. The discovery of this ancient Japanese cheese and the Japanese knife skills were additions inspired by Chef Tamura’s time in Italy and France, where he grew embarrassed by his lack of knowledge on Japanese food and felt compelled to find meaning and significance in his own background.
Apart from some proteins from France and a few unique items like a spicy red berry called malagueta pepper from the Ivory Coast, the ingredients at Tirpse come from the length and breadth of Japan. Even the Dukkah spice in the oyster dish is homemade using white sesame from Kikaijima in the Amami Oshima Islands of southern Japan, combined with almond, coriander, cumin, and white pepper. Bergamot comes from a farmer in Kochi Prefecture who was the first to succeed at growing this difficult orange-like fruit in Japan. Chef Tamura waited in excited anticipation for the first harvest to arrive.
As for the main fish dish, the chef has developed his own technique to get the very best out of each catch. This summer, a delivery of isagi threeline grunt fish arrived from Shikinejima, far off the coast of Shizuoka Prefecture. Chef Tamura carefully removed the head and innards before hanging the fish in a specially fitted fridge. As he waited, the moisture in the skin slowly evaporated resulting in umami-rich, plump flesh, and a dehydrated skin that crisps beautifully in the pan. For the best combination of silky textures with a delicious crunch, this is a method that will surely be shared among chefs.
A glass cabinet houses fabulous goblets in earthy colors with a curious bubbled texture. Takatori-yaki from Fukuoka Prefecture, the goblets were made by Onimaru Setsuzan Kamamoto, a kiln that traditionally made tea utensils. Alongside Calvados, Grand Marnier and many other liqueurs, this is just a prelude to the enormous wine cellar that opens out before you. The collection has come together through the passion for and knowledge of wine possessed by Tirpse’s owner/ sommelier, Naotaka Ohashi. Having served as sommelier at a two-star Michelin restaurant in Bordeaux, he was accustomed to conforming to very traditional and local Bordeaux wines. Now that he is in charge, he relishes the chance to serve whatever takes his or the guests’ fancy, including wines from all over the old and new world, Japanese sake, and liqueurs. From New Zealand natural skin fermented Sauvignon Blanc and organic Croatian wine, to vintage Champagne, Côte-Rôtie Syrah and classic Saint-Estèphe Bordeaux blends, the cellar is indeed diverse. And a pairing course at Tirpse may even include a refreshing gin and tonic. It is all about finding a fit with the cuisine served by the chef, for whom Ohashi has the deepest respect.