Kinu by Takagi at the Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok was launched a few years ago by Chef Takagi Kazuo of two-Michelin-starred Kyoto Cuisine Takagi in Ashiya, Japan. The intimate, 10-seat restaurant quickly became a must-visit for those who wanted to become more familiar with kaiseki, a dining experience native to Kyoto that comprises of detailed, multi-course menus inspired by the passing of the seasons.
Last week, Chef Takagi returned to Kinu by Takagi to craft a final lunch and dinner menu for 2022 in tandem with Chef Norihisa Maeda. Chef Maeda has more than 35 years of experience working in some of the finest kitchens in the world and has spent the last three decades building up his expertise in kaiseki.
Tapping into their knowledge, the culinary titans have curated two menus for lunch and dinner that incorporate premium ingredients best enjoyed during Japan’s autumn and winter seasons. To add more depth and complexity, each dish also incorporates different types of caviar. An ingredient rarely used in Japanese cuisine, this addition makes these two kaiseki menus particularly fitting for diners who loves their meals filled to the brim with umami.
Having sampled the five-course lunch, the culinary journey began with a welcome drink of hojicha tea served in a traditional Japanese-styled Minka area, after which we were led to the chef’s table to sit down. One of the biggest advantages of dining in such an intimate setting is being able to witness the true mastery of the chefs at work, as every seat had uninterrupted views of the preparation and execution of the meal.
As the menu was focused on caviar, it was only fitting for the lunch to begin with an informative session with Laurent Dulau, the CEO of Sturia, a high-end caviar company based out of France seen as pioneers in the farming of sturgeon fish. During his introduction he discussed the different types of caviar available and how the industry is shifting to prioritising sustainability.
He then moved onto a more detailed explanation of how caviar is sourced from different types of sturgeon fish found predominantly in waterways around Europe. Over the afternoon, we sampled four types of caviar – three of which were from the acipenser baerii, also known as the Siberian sturgeon; and one was from the acipenser gueldenstaedtii, or the Russian sturgeon.
Laurent also explained that we can use several of our senses to determine information about the caviar we are sampling as the colours and textures can vary a lot depending on their quality, type, and how long they have matured for. The selection we sampled were matured between 3 to 9 months and included Sturia’s Primeur, Vintage, Oscietra, and Origin caviars.
After the informative session, we were introduced to Yuto Kaneyasu from the Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo, who flew in especially to curate a special sake pairing for the caviar-forward kaiseki meal. The sake we sampled was bottled in several places across Japan, including Ishikawa, Saga, Akita, and Nagano, and included refreshing sparkling variations.
We were told that although Champagne is the most popular choice as a complement, sake is actually a fabulous choice to enjoy with caviar dishes. Not only does sake help to enhance the briny notes of caviar, but caviar aids with neutralising the acidity of the sake resulting in more balanced flavours on the palate.
Before we dove into the lunch, Chef Takagi had one more treat for all of us –a walkthrough of how to create restaurant-quality chawanmushi, also known as Japanese egg custard. After the brief cooking lesson, he topped each of our custard bowls with a generous dollop of caviar and served them to us while still warm. Although the dish was crafted from just a handful of ingredients, it ended up being one of my favourites of the afternoon.
We then moved onto the first plate from the new five-course lunch, the Sakizuke –Hokkaido scallop and snow crab tartar served with beetroot, lotus stem, pumpkin puree. The tartar was also topped with Sturia Oscietra caviar, which elevated the naturally buttery essences of the scallop and crab even further.
Next was the Tzukuri, a selection of fresh sashimi served by the chef alongside imported Japanese wasabi. This was followed by the Hassun, a colourful plate featuring a persimmon-shaped salmon nigiri; grilled Kamasu fish roll with Maitake mushroom and Sturia Origin caviar; shimeji mushrooms and French beans dressed with a tangy egg yolk and mustard sauce; and a chestnut compote crafted to look like real chestnuts that fall from trees in the autumn.
We then tucked into the Agemono—a warming bowl of soft yuba bean tofu curd tempura served in a sticky dashi with a generous spoon of Sturia Oscietra caviar to top it off. To conclude the savoury portion of the meal, we enjoyed a bowl of Hokkaido sea urchin and Sturia Origin caviar served atop aromatic Japanese rice. This was paired with a moreish Nagoya red miso soup and pickles to cut through the richness of the uni.
To end, we were served a fall-inspired dessert comprising of persimmon and pear served with a hojicha tea jelly and chestnut ice cream, drizzled over with a creamy brown sugar and custard sauce.
The Kinu by Takagi caviar menus for lunch and dinner are only available until December 30 2022. For more information, click here.