Review: Okamoto

1 September 2016

Was good to be back in Tokyo after a rather quick flight. Unfortunately I had forgotten that Tokyo is horribly hot and humid still in the early days of September, and I was soaked in sweat waiting for my bus from Narita to my hotel. Oh these 5 days are gonna be a challenge… If I already sweat up a storm in middle of winter when it’s below freezing, this is gonna kill me…

Got back to my familiar home-away-from-home in Tokyo, the excellent Park Hotel Tokyo. One of few places I keep the wifi setting on my phone, just showing how I so like this place. I grabbed all my dining reservations, thanking the amazing concierge team here for working their magic again for the next 5 days. I was so happy and excited to be back, despite sweating like a madman!

I unpacked and did all the post-arrival things before heading out to dinner. Tonight was the highly-acclaimed kaiseki restaurant Okamoto. The chef here is well known having been at 3-Michelin Yukimura in the past (tho not when I visited a few years ago). Okamoto has 2 Michelin stars, not that it means much in Japan. But it is well-regarded.

I showed up soaked in sweat as even the 15-minute walk to Ginza was like running through a sauna… I chilled out as I happily went with their sake recommendations. The meal commences!

01-hamo-soup

I was a little worried when this hamo (conger pike) dish was brought, as I was still sweating. I know this is a summer dish to the Japanese, but my body did not appreciate more heat to be honest. The hamo tasted okay, a little lacking in flavour; the broth a bit bland, though it being slightly acidic was welcomed in this summer heat. That saved the dish really.

I wonder if that was to cause us to drink more, though the place was rather empty; only about half the counter was occupied, which was telling… Anyway, the second dish, was a wee roll.

02-grilled-mackerel-roll

Nice grilled mackerel roll here, a nice snack. Good flavours certainly. Then we move onto the next two items that appeared simultaneously…

03-karasumi-soba

The first was some excellent soba covered with karasumi. I love karasumi, so this was much welcomed. But it didn’t work as well as you’d think, since karasumi is essentially bottarga. It was grated in a strange way and it didn’t mesh with the soba as well as I thought it would.

04-corn

The other item is a wee tempura corn, which was not bad. A nice little addition here. I chilled out, took a swig of my sake and my heart sank…the next dish is another hot broth…

05-turtle-soup

Soft-shell turtle soup. Another of the “combat heat” dish, but it just got me sweating again. I know for many people this is huge, but it was a little meh here. Wee pieces of turtle floated around, but it was again rather bland — nowhere near as good as at Den a few trips ago. There was also some matsutake here, and it’s the blandest, most un-nuanced matsutake I’ve ever had to be honest. Sigh, I wonder if the blandness has to do with me sweating so profusely, but…

I drank more sake as I was still sweating. I was now dripping with sweat. Ugh, not good for me. I was a little worried as this meal wasn’t exactly blowing me away. Next up was a jelly and uni dish.

06-uni-jelly

Not bad, though I couldn’t really distinguish what the jelly was. Next up was grilled anago.

07-anago

One piece of the eel, which had been grilling over charcoal for a bit now, he really laid down the citrus and it was very acidic. The second was far better just with salt. But to be honest the consistency of this was not very good, almost like it was overcooked and dried out… Surprised with this actually…

We kept going and the next dish was the big varied one, and it was a pretty excellent mix of items from the looks of it…

08a-big-dish

The crab was pretty good, but the star of the front right dish was the hamo liver — that was fabulous. The front left is actually dried octupus roe, which was fantastic. The back left was excellent, featuring ayu — a sweet little fish — with some pickled onions. On the back right was an amazing mixture of items, from a dried baby octopus to karasumi, but the star was the sea cucumber ovary. Mmmm, what a treat. And at the back in the cool glass were noodles made from mountain yam in a broth — and yes, it was cold! An excellent selection that saved this dinner! By far the highlight!

I enjoyed all of that and chilled with more sake as I await the next dish.

09-abalone-pepper-with-white-miso

There’s more to this, as you see pepper and white miso, but there’s also a ridiculously tender abalone beneath. Honestly I like my clams and abalone to have texture, though I can see people loving this. I know Andy Hayler has raved about this chef’s abalone prep, but I prefer mine a bit more chewy. The daikon and eggplant was a nice addition, but the miso was actually a bit overwhelming to the point I scraped the bulk of it aside — almost like how I have to scrape overuse of sauce elsewhere off. Why do I detect so much unnecessary French influence tonight?

In any case, we approached the close with the rice dish, and it was unagi…

10b-unagi

I thought it weird for a top kaiseki place to do so much eel, although this unagi was fabulous. Too bad the portion was so small. And with plain rice (just with eel sauce, which I can do without), it was pretty lame of a close to be honest. I had expected more from a place that’s consistently rated as one of the most creative and interesting.

Honestly this meal did nothing for me, just made me sweat at times. And the dessert really puzzled me as he’s known for making gelato with green tea and yoghurt…

11a-dessert

This was a disaster as it didn’t gel and was frozen solid. The tea part was frozen and flaking like shaved ice, and the yoghurt part was leaking once it started to melt in room temperature. It was a terrible lack of care preparation and should have been checked prior to service. I think he realised it when he saw me labouring with what should have been a quickly-eaten number. What an awful end.

And seeing the bill, which was over 400 dollars, I was shaking my internal head. Goodness, this was so not worth it. It has that “let’s impress rich foreigners with special ingredients” mentality, like the turtle and abalone, but so much of it was totally mediocre compared to nearly every kaiseki meal I’ve ever had from Tokyo to Hiroshima. This was by far the most inferior of any of them. I’m starting to understand why it’s half empty.

Oh well, bad meals happen, but it’s always more painful when it’s stupid expensive. Reminds me of that terrible lunch at Mizutani. Sigh…an expensive learning lesson…

Okamoto [おかもと]
5F, Daini Ginza Column Building
8-3-12 Ginza, Chuo-ku
Tokyo, Japan

PS: To be very honest, the snack I picked up at the Family Mart next to my hotel was probably better than a few of the dishes tonight…

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6 thoughts on “Review: Okamoto

    • No, for me it wasn’t — the first time a kaiseki meal in Japan has been more poor than good over many trips. Plus crazy expensive, it was closer to $400! :/

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