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Restaurant Review: Tanigawa, an authentic kaiseki experience

By Localiiz Branded | 22 August 2022

An inconspicuous doorway that opens up to a fine-dining experience, Tanigawa invites Hongkongers on a culinary adventure across Japan’s islands with the finest and freshest ingredients. Created by chef Shigeru Tanigawa, the 33-seat restaurant serves premium Japanese kaiseki, a multi-course tasting menu that highlights the seasons.

What is kaiseki?

With origins dating back to the sixteenth century, kaiseki (懐石) has roots in Japan’s traditional tea ceremonies, where participants would wish for something to eat alongside the ceremony. As such, kaiseki menus offer light, intricate dishes. The modern kaiseki has since evolved into a hearty meal, where a chef would offer six to 15 courses at their discretion.

At a kaiseki meal, it’s all about using the best ingredients available, sourced directly from Japan’s seas and soils to your plate. It also has a theme—be it spring, summer, autumn, or winter, the chef will curate the menu accordingly to reflect the season with the courses’ balance of tastes, presentation, colour, aroma, texture, and feel. Kaiseki does not merely offer the freshest produce of the day; it also shows the chef’s dedication to what is essentially an art form, from the conceptualisation of the menu, the selection of ingredients and cooking methods, to plating and presentation, forming a curated dining experience.

Venue and atmosphere

We walk in and up a flight of stairs, where a warmly lit dining hall awaits us. Seven counter seats allow a view of an open kitchen, where we see Chef Tanigawa preparing our dishes for the day. Around us, we also glimpse several tables, as well as two private dining halls for larger parties. Kaiseki Tanigawa’s chief strategy officer, Ken Nagai, was our host for lunch.

Gently guiding us to our seats, he explains how the menus change monthly to accommodate the season and its bounty. Following the kaiseki tradition of offering the freshest meals possible, every dish is made on the day of—nothing is left overnight. As such, the restaurant is by-reservation-only, and it is essential to indicate allergies and dietary restrictions early on so the chefs can replace ingredients without sacrificing the quality of the kaiseki experience.

The bar downstairs offers a wide selection of sake, with an umami base that compliments the food. Nagai suggests having one before your meal, to set the mood. Like the monthly menu, the sake menu also changes depending on Chef Tanigawa’s creations. If you’re not enthused about sake, the bar also offers wines and champagnes to be enjoyed before and after your meal. Corkage is priced at $300 and guests are welcome to BYOB.

Food

Tanigawa offers seven-course lunch ($880) and eight-course dinner ($1,880) options. Refreshing summer ingredients like cucumber, yam, sweet potato, and squash feature on this month’s menus. Light but filling, we began with cold, sweet, and sour appetisers and fresh sashimi before progressing into saltier waters with seafood and mains, and finished with a dessert to send us back into the August heat. As appropriate for a cuisine dedicated to the Japanese tea ceremony, green tea was offered at the end of the meal. We had sencha.

It’s impossible to select highlights. Every dish had its place in the procession, be it the seasonal sashimi of tuna and squid alongside seasonal garnish, showcasing Japan’s finest culinary bounties, or the humble chawanmushi (茶碗蒸し; steamed egg), which is served as the first warm course of the meal to calm the mind. But in terms of personal favourites, we liked the starter, the tempura, and the gohan (ご飯; rice) courses best.

The starter—pike conger, spaghetti squash, and okra with plum sauce—sat in a bowl of Tanigawa’s dashi, coating the crispy batter with a layer of sour goodness to whet our appetites. The softness of the pike conger, crunchiness of the squash, and viscous texture of the okra evoke in mind (and taste buds) a delightful conundrum of texture, taste, and colour that represents summer—a phenomenon repeated with every dish presented by Chef Tanigawa.

We sated our hunger with the tempura of Aosa seaweed battered scallop, fresh-made sesame tofu, and Japanese eggplant, basking in the crispy, mouth-searing ingredients fried to golden perfection. The deep-fried eggplant soaked up dashi and gentle oil from the pan, creating a gratifying umami flavour, whilst the sesame tofu, made in-house that morning, counterbalanced the heaviness of the eggplant with its airy texture and fresh nutty taste. Saving the best for last, we polished off the Aosa seaweed battered scallop, whose double punches of savoury seawater forcefully sent us to thoughts of our next seaside vacation.

The black-haired Miyazaki Wagyu shigure-ni with fresh corn and miso soup, slow-cooked with sweet soy sauce and ginger, melted in the mouth, its rich tallow coating the taste buds with each bite. What could easily have been greasy was diminished with its small, cubed form, accompanied by a bite of the buttery rice, which was cooked with sweet corn, water, and a splash of dashi in a donabe (土鍋; Japanese clay pot). 

Chef Tanigawa’s skill was apparent with thoughtful applications of ingredients and techniques, ultimately transforming his courses into works of art. Luckily, there was some rice left—patting our stomachs, we happily asked for seconds.

Tanigawa’s kaiseki

Our impression of the meal? Surprisingly fun. As every part of the meal was edible, Chef Tanigawa got creative. He encouraged us to use shiso flowers as a brush to apply scant amounts of ponzu and sea urchin soy sauce to the seasonal sashimi, so as not to overwhelm their natural freshness. The flowers were then urged to be eaten, a strange bitter taste that still remains in our recollection. Dessert—matcha kuzukiri, Japanese pear, shiratama, and tsubu an (つぶあん; red bean paste)—made us giggle like children as we futilely poked at the kuzukiri in hopes of picking it up. The trick is to twirl it like spaghetti.

The meal was a culinary journey—from cold to hot, and cold again; first sour, then salty, then sweet; light, then filling, and light again. The passage of time eluded us as we luxuriated in the restaurant’s calm atmosphere and lost ourselves in the food, only to emerge two hours later, pleasantly disoriented. Picky eaters will find that, despite the predetermined menu, Chef Tanigawa’s careful selection of seasonal Japanese ingredients and his attention to cooking techniques guarantees to present only the best aspects of each ingredient. Leave your doubt at the door—kaiseki at Tanigawa is a gastronomic adventure worth relishing.

Nagai describes dining at Tanigawa with one word: low-key. In addition, Nagai says, “We want to be an evangelist of genuine washoku culture.” Despite kaiseki being a refined occasion, the dining experience is designed for guests to enjoy the food, atmosphere, and people around them. He suggests learning about the background of kaiseki before your meal and asking about the context of the dishes presented before you. “Japanese cuisine can be easy to eat, but it’s very hard to understand. But when a guest eats with knowledge of the context and history of kaiseki? It doubles—no, triples—the experience.”

Even with 40-plus years of experience and extensive training in various Japanese cuisines, Chef Tanigawa’s favourite remains to be kaiseki, especially when the message he conveys through his cooking is understood and appreciated by diners. “It’s about the beauty of the food,” he insists, “where only the best parts of the ingredients are selected, combined, and cooked. Kaiseki is a formal affair.”

Kaiseki Tanigawa x Hukkuro: August sake dinner event

Come autumn, the menu will morph again, with Chef Tanigawa showcasing a different side to kaiseki. Autumn menus, following the Japanese saying “shokuyoku no aki” (“autumn appetites”), will feature warmer foods that ward you from the cooling temperatures.

Partnering with Hukkuro, Kaiseki Tanigawa will host an August sake dinner on Wednesday, 31 August, priced at $2,880 per person. Join them for an authentic kaiseki experience from 7 pm onwards to celebrate the changing seasons with an eight-course menu featuring abalone and Japanese yam, Barracuda kosode sushi, and marinated duck in flavoured sauce with fresh corn donabe rice. Each course is paired with a specially chosen sake, communicating the essence of kaiseki through inspiring food and drinks.

Kaiseki Tanigawa | 懐石谷川

Presenting an authentic kaiseki dining experience with the freshest ingredients from the shores of Japan, Tanigawa communicates the essence of Japanese cuisine with its kaiseki meals. Chef Tanigawa incorporates 40-plus years of culinary experience into the restaurant’s intricate monthly menus, aligning them perfectly with the changing seasons.

UG/F, 263 Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan

(+852) 5202 9632

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