Seasonality plays an important role in Japanese cuisine. It dictates what we eat at different times of the year, and this is precisely what makes Japanese food so interesting.
Japan’s summer is the season for eels, be it unagi (freshwater eel), anago (sea eel), or in Kyoto especially, hamo (pike conger). This delicacy is being featured in the summer kaiseki menu of Kozue, the Japanese restaurant with a sweeping view of Shinjuku on the 40th floor of Park Hyatt Tokyo. To complement this seasonal speciality, chef Nobuhiro Yoshida has chosen to highlight Kyoto’s heirloom vegetables, otherwise also known as Kyo-yasai, which are beloved for their unique shapes, vibrant colours and high nutritional value.
For dinner, the kaiseki course comes in two options: eight-course Shino (¥16,500, excluding service charge) and nine-course Takumi (¥22,000, excluding service charge). The differences are not just in the number of dishes, but also the ingredients. For instance in the clear soup course, which we love for its clarity in flavour that puts the focus squarely on the fish, Shino serves up barracuda while Takumi has the more premium rockfish.
The sumptuous Takumi course starts off light and fresh with the hairy crab and vegetable dumpling, which comes beautifully presented on a piece of lotus leaf, another symbol of Japanese summer. This is followed by wild pike conger from Aomori with firm, juicy eggplant in a dried scallop broth, the aforementioned clear but complex soup with hints of aged bonito smokiness and yuzu, as well as Kozue’s signature sashimi that’s served in a giant bowl of ice together with nori (seaweed) ‘tower’. The prime tuna sashimi is a dream, with a well-rounded fattiness that makes the meat juicy akin to eating a piece of ripe peach.
Next is a type of Japanese platter known as hassun, which has 10 small dishes featuring classic Kyoto and summer flavours such as yuba (tofu skin), chilli pepper stuffed with shrimp paste and a variety of Kyo-yasai. There’s also a beautiful broiled unagi accentuated with sansho pepper sauce, and a wagyu hot pot in Kyoto’s famous white miso soup, before ending with a steamed rice dish with summer sweetfish.
For dessert, tomato might sound like an odd flavour for an ice cream, but here it works as the perfect ending to an immaculately balanced and refined meal that respects the subtle flavours of its hero ingredients – eels and Kyoto heirloom vegetables.
Taste of Summer – Roots of Kyoto kaiseki menu is available at Kozue until August 4.
The flower fields at Shikisai-no-oka in Hokkaido are now blooming
Travel update: when can I travel to Japan?
7 best places to see glorious sunflowers near Tokyo
There's now a ‘Stranger Things’ pop-up café in Shibuya
Two of the world’s greatest places in 2022 are in Japan
Want to be the first to know what’s cool in Tokyo? Sign up to our newsletter for the latest updates from Tokyo and Japan.