★ Hajime, Osaka

Ideally we would love to spend 1 more day in Kyoto to cover more attraction sites. However we had to leave the ancient capital in order to reach Osaka for our dinner reservation at Hajime – a 2-Michelin star restaurant. The reservation system on their website allows diners to select up to 3 different dates and the restaurant would inform us of the allocated appointment slot. As the restaurant is typically closed on Sundays, we were left with Saturday or Friday option during our short weekend stay in Osaka. Unfortunately we were assigned the Friday instead of our first choice of Saturday. Having visited Osaka before, I was not that impressed by the metropolitan city (unless you are very much into shopping). Comparatively I enjoyed the compactness and quaintness of Kyoto.

We left Kyoto rather reluctantly, trying to maximise our time there till late afternoon, to take the JR train to Osaka. The restaurant was pretty accessible from Namba area, where we were staying, hence it was only a short subway ride away.

At first glance, the restaurant shopfront has somewhat similar style to that of Narisawa – sleek, contemporary and stylish. These seems to be a common trait amongst the French-Japanese restaurants in Japan. It is noteworthy that my last fine dining in Japan was at L’Effervescence where the Chef Shinobu Namae served at Michel Bras’ restaurant Toya in Hokkaido, same as where Chef Hajime Yoneda honed his skills before opening his own restaurant. However that X-factor is probably why I was attracted to dine at these establishments.

We read somewhere that there is a no photography policy at the restaurant, so I quickly snapped a picture of the shopfront and gingerly asked the service staff who was at the reception if we could keep our camera with us to take photos of the meal. The staff went to seek advice from the maître d’ who later approached us at our table. We were expecting him to break the bad news to us, but he came over to say Yes! But he shared with us in a very soft and gentle tone – “Please try to take photos quickly as we hope you can enjoy the food while it is still at its best temperature.”  I was so thrilled that we could take photos that I would gladly adhere to any instructions given.

The theme of the 9-course degustation meal at Hajime was named “dialogue with the earth 2017” and we started our gastronomical journey with midori 绿 greenasparagus/chickweed/yellow yuzu a refreshing appetizer which is described as “myraid leaves” in the menu.

The 2nd dish was also bite-sized, named seimei 生命 lifeflatfish/herring roe/firefly squid/saffron. The firefly squid, as the name implies, is said to be able to emit a mysterious glow which are considered a delicacy in Japan. They have a very soft texture with plump innards and a natural sweet taste, complemented by the fried onion used to hold all the elements together. This dish was aptly described as “small lives” in the menu.

We continued with the theme of ocean catches with iso 磯 rocky coastoyster/cucumber/kelp/yoghurt/blue mussel/rakkyo/cive/red perilla/quinoa/sea urchin/broccoli/anise. The dish had 3 components in total, described as “sea forest” in the menu.

Starting with a beautiful piece of edible and tasty artwork which featured the dollops of various elements topped with colourful leaves. 

Another component featured the blue mussel plated in a shell with brown seaweed surrounding the centre piece. The use of the seaweed seems to allude to the lush and abundance marine plants in the sea.

The final component had sea urchin buried under the flavoursome but airy foam, which was deliberately sculpted into a cone shape. In fact, my first thought was “Is this meant to resemble their sacred Mount Fuji?

Although the Chef was trained in France and his creations are based on classical French cooking style; judging by the 3 appetizers that we had tasted so far, we were impressed by the clean, light and fresh contemporary style presented. We felt that the Chef had successfully amalgamated the various ingredients (with much thought and deliberation) so as to draw out each of their natural flavours.

From the ocean, we moved inland to kawa 川 rivercherry salmon/Japanese pepper/Hatcho miso/mango/apple/white kidney beans. I’m not sure if I’m reading too much into things, but I thought the leaves had the form of a fish? It was only subsequently that I discovered that this dish was described as “school of fish” in the menu. The fishes were seen to be swimming along the “river” represented by the dots… and in the centre of the plate you would find the delicate piece of cherry salmon.

Before serving up the next dish, the staff had to adjust the placement of our cutlery as the vessel used for the upcoming dish would take up almost the whole table! It is the signature dish at the restaurant chikyu 地球 planet earth.  The huge ceramic plate had to be carefully carried by 2 staff in tandem to be placed on the table. The maître d’  then explained to us the significance of this dish. It was designed to pay homage to Nature, circulation of the earth and represent Minerals. He then poured a clam broth over the multitude of vegetables, grains and herbs.

That action according to the description in the menu was to represent rain that pours onto mountain, they become drops and  runs through leaves, falls to ground, goes down through various layers, absorbs power (nutrient?) to become part of a river in a forest. Each of them makes mountain stream and becomes a river and then the river flows down into the sea (depicted by the blue part of the plate). Then cloud is formed at sea (cloud is represented by the shellfish foam), the cloud would then turn into rain. The Earth consists of this cycle. If you had taken geography in secondary school, this would sound familiar isn’t it?

That is not all. The vegetables absorb the power (nutrients?) of the earth. Plants with roots in ground, absorb the elements (nutrients?) that they need and the rest of the minerals flow into the sea. The seashells (mollusks?)  acquire these minerals to grow.

Hence in summary this dish “joins the minerals of the earth and the sea, makes us feel that we are also part of the natural providence and could be seen as a message from earth to human being”.

This dish featured a total of 110 different varieties of vegetables, grains and herbs, prepared individually, and plated to resemble a mountainous landscape. We tried to count the number of vegetables as we ate but lost count of it by around 20+… Almost every piece is a different element so you would get to taste a huge amount of plants and different parts of it! I can’t imagine the amount of time and effort used to prepare all the elements, cook and plate them so intricately!

umi 海 sea is a 2-part dish, with the photo above described as “flow” nodoguro/coriander/eggplant/sea lettuce/pea sprout vineNodoguro being blackthroat seaperch is regarded as a high grade deep-sea fish, nicknamed “King of White fish”. I love the way the sea lettuce was used to create a smudge effect with the emerald coloured chive oil, resulting in an overall presentation akin to chinese ink wash painting. It was interesting that this dish was described as flow, perhaps as a continuation that the river from the earlier course as river flows into the sea. At the same time, the ability to execute brush strokes in order to refine brush movement and ink flow are also fundamentals to create an ink painting. I read that Chef is an avid painter and rather good at it too!

The 2nd part of the dish (shown above) is described as “relation” freshwater prawn/uncured ham/quail’s egg/mantis shrimp/suppon. It took a while for me to realise why this dish was described as “relation”, probably cos I was overwhelmed by the various elements scattered over the plate. I spent some time zooming my focus from one element to another, before spotting the tiny shrimp that dwarf in comparison to the giant mantis shrimp! And it felt as if the Chef was trying to create a “food picture” showing their actual living environment in the river or ocean. Happy to enjoy mantis shrimp again after my first encounter with it at Hokkaido‘s Michelin-starred sushi restaurant – Isezushi.

hakai to douka 破坏和同化 destruction and assimilation foie gras/Asian hazel/pumpkin/black pepper came with a delicate and wafer thin caramel “roof tile” which cracked (destructed…) when we tried to lift it up in an attempt to better show its translucency. Sandwiched between the caramel sheet and the sable textured base was the smooth and buttery foie gras mousse. The word assimilation used in naming the dish probably refers to a lesser known meaning of absorption and digestion of food or nutrients by the body or any biological system. Hence this dish was described as – what is ‘eat’. I guess it is used to portray our (human beings) action of destroying other plants or animals on earth in order to fulfill our need. Though I think the desire to eat could be due to physical hunger or psychological satisfaction?

kibou 希望 hope comprises of 4 parts:

  • “dew” – pine This was a palate cleanser, the artistic vessel was pretty eye-catching.
  • “mother earth” – beef/pumpkin/beet/parsnip/matcha/wasabi leaves This was soooo amazingly plated that both of us let out a “Wow!” when it was presented. The bright red beef with the vibrant orange pumpkin lined along the green stroke that looked like the masterpiece of someone who had the skills to wield the soft brush with strength. Needless to say the beef was juicy and tender.

  • “sky” – pigeon/black garlic/pomegranate/blackcurrant/wild rocket I have to say we had several experience eating pigeon dishes, ranging from the undercooked and gamey ones to great memorable ones (the most recent one being at &samhoud places, Amsterdam). The pigeon dish at Hajime had the added bonus of being so pretty, I guess Chef had brilliantly added wild rocket that resembled “olive branch” which is often associated with dove (pigeon and dove belonged to the same family) as a symbol of peace. The charred onion with the sweet and earthy black garlic pairs well with the medium-rare pigeon.

  • “field” – milk/olive oil/bee pollen The final installment of this dish was a prelude to the dessert. Made with seemingly simple yet nutritious ingredients, topped with edible flowers. I wish I could take this as a beauty supplement every day~

ai 爱 love also a two-part dish starting with “passion” passion fruit/cacao butter/vodka (top right hand corner of pix above). We were told to place whole the bright yellow sphere into our mouth before biting them. And “bam“, we could feel the explosion of the barely controllable liquid in our mouth, just like how we used the word passion to describe compelling emotion. The second part of the dessert is “spread to the world” strawberry/raspberry/sable. A lovely pink/red theme dish filled with fun elements, like the red lips jelly and the pink sphere filled with strawberry compote.

Finally we were served the petite fours which was supposed to end the whole meal…Comprising of warm kumquat, honey ice cream, almond.

But wait~ Here comes an additional mystery dessert special~

This fancy and dreamy dessert would melt the hearts of many ladies! This dessert includes a quintet of exquisite creations: fluffy cotton candy, mascarpone cheese tart, chestnut candy, popcorn pudding and chocolate. The pix of the chestnut candy and chocolate were slightly blurry as we scrambled to take close-up photos of each element while the cotton candy was seen to be “drooping”…I’m particularly impressed with the cheese tart which was encased in the sphere the size smaller than the dessert spoon!

What a lovely ending to the wonderful meal! The dining hall was almost empty by the time we finished our meal so I managed to take a shot of the hall.

Chef Hajime Yoneda was at the foyer to bid us farewell. His bony face was framed with a pair of black but sleek and fashionable spectacle. His well-kempt image and gentlemanly persona was uniquely different from the other chefs we had met so far.

Chef certainly looked more like a methodical engineer than a chef (he was a design engineer by training). I think precision and the ability to follow through steps of a recipe is one essential trait of a chef (even more so for pastry chef), in order to consistently deliver top-notch, well executed dishes. However on the other hand, one needs an exploratory, creative mind and possess the experimental mindset in order to invent new dishes.  His dishes were meticulously prepared (almost feel abit of OCD-ness in his dishes) yet artistically presented. Chef Hajime clearly has strong flair in both aspects.

We left with a farewell gift of tea jam in an elegantly designed paper bag. I could almost foresee that perhaps in future, guests would find a piece of a painting or artwork of Chef Hajime in the bag as well~

Last but not least, I’m glad that I was given the chance to snap photos of the meal at Hajime rather than taking mental pictures. For me, I writing my post and looking at the photos is a way of reminiscing about the meal.  It helps to further reinforce my memory and experience at the restaurants that I visited. Of course if the diner is too obsessed with snapping photos for the sake of showing off to others, to gain that momentary moment of attention/envy without real appreciation of the food, then they are not giving due respect to the Chef.

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This entry was posted in Asia's 50 Best Restaurant, ★ Michelin Star Restaurant, Degustation Menu, Fusion, Japan, Restaurant and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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