Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Giro Giro Kagurazaka くずし割烹 枝魯枝魯

Chances are some of you may have heard or even visited Giro Giro, a popular "punkish kaiseki" restaurant in Kyoto. Yes, this restaurant in Tokyo is the sister outlet which has just opened for barely few months since November 2013. 
True to its unorthodox fashion, this one is hidden in of the narrow, back alleys in Kagurazaka, an old district that is congregated with many Michelin-starred Italian, French restaurants alongside traditional Japanese wagashi house and food stores. And just like Gion Kyoto, Kagurazaka is also another fascinating neighbourhood that houses geishas.
Dinner here is fixed at 4500 yen per person, albeit slightly more expensive than the 3,680-yen course at Kyoto. But trust me, the place won't leave you feeling shortchanged. Being seated in front of the boisterous kitchen counter in level one gives one a chance to interact with the kitchen crew, who may not sport flamboyant hairstyles (oh yeah, one had his front hair tied up in a cute pig tail) but are definitely not stern-faced chefs that stare vigilantly at their ingredients. The chefs here are young and if you feel like it, don't be shy to have a toast of sake with the chef. They gladly, drink along while still keeping up with the tempo of food preparation.
Many have commented that this place transcends the conventions of Japanese cuisine but I beg to differ. Though the multi-course kaiseki is served dish by dish, the order from cold appetizers to meat dish to the rice course is still very much rooted in formality and tradition. The course kick-started with a simple appetizer of yuba tofu on chrysanthemum flower (春菊) cream, garnished with the same vegetable and kohaku-namasu, red-white radish that is pickled in sweet vinegar--common in new year. 

前菜盛り合わせ Appetizer Platter
Things get busier and more exciting as we moved on to the appetizer plate that is exquisitely arranged to reflect the mood of the new year. Probably inspired by the luxurious new year osechi, one finds tazukuri 田作り (dried sardines cooked in soy sauce) which can be easily mistaken as ikan bilis, satsuma-age (deep fried chewy fish cake) topped with cubes of kazu-no-ko (herring roe), spinach with mustard rolled in pickled lotus and vanilla-flavoured kuromame (black beans)! Yes, the vanilla taste is very distinct. 

Meanwhile, other interesting re-interpretations of the customary osechi dishes include this soft, savoury tamago rolled with tangy ume (not mentaiko~), and the twigs of brown popped rice that injected a playful spirit when one is forced to put aside the chopsticks to unpluck the lightly toasted white puffs.

At the corner of the same tray is a square of nanban-zuke chicken that resides in the cute ceramic container of a mandarin duck (or chicken?)

On the opposite end is a small dish of tai-fish, baby yam and bechamel sauce. 

After much commotion, one is treated to a bowl of soothing Ozoni, お雑煮, which declares its Kansai genealogy via its white miso broth instead of a clear broth that is more common in Kanto region. It had a faint tinge of liquor and reminded me of ama-zake (sweet rice wine drink), though the chef commented that no alcohol was used but the base was Kyoto miso. Together with the winter fish buri and toasted mochi, it was another memorable dish of the night. 
Always expect the unexpected here as even sushi deviates from the vinegared rice and raw fish. 

The version here boldly combines a patty of vinegar-less rice seasoned with black pepper and a pinkish hamaguri (oriental clams) that is smeared with some sweet tare.
Yet the climax had not arrived till we got to this zeitaku tamago (literally "extravagant egg"). Our hearts pumped nervously as we could not decide whether to consume it in hito-guchi (one bite) or savour the bits and pieces. It's not just a ramen egg, but a tremendous egg topped with caviar, ikura, a flower-shaped karasumi (dried salted mullet roe or bottarga), pan-fried foie gras and drizzled in sesame oil and tarako sauce.

The next dish can easily be the main course of any Western restaurant. The roll of salt-roasted Iberico pork, topped with sweet kinkan (golden kumquats) sauce and deep-fried shreds of kabocha (pumpkin), lay comfortably on the pool of kujo-negi sauce (famous green onion from Kyoto). Everything was excellent, except for the pork that was too tough to mangle with sheer grit. The shimeji mushrooms from Tanba, Kyoto, seemed deliberately prepared in tempura style just to fulfill the criteria of  mandatory "fried dish" in a typical kaiseki.  

Nothing beats having oysters during winter
食事:海鮮丼 赤だし
Another standout that created quite a buzz was the rice dish that indulged diners to no ends. It was a kaisen don with an arresting centerpiece--raw egg yolk. Adhering to the whimsical concept, a slice of raw wagyu beef is masked among the various sashimi. 
No seasoning is added, for the julienned shreds of pickled wasabi in shoyu achieved their dual effectiveness of flavoring the rice and curing any unpleasant fishiness. This was a welcome change to the mundane plain white rice serve with miso soup served towards the end of any kaiseki.The dessert was evidently not the kind of perfect sweets churned out by the hands of skilled pastry chef, for the matcha macaron were not deftly shaped in the right texture while the choux puff pastry (filled with chestnut custard and red bean paste) was soggy and stale from stoning in their fridge for too long. 
But kudos to the chef for not giving up in presentation. It looked like a tropical island set in the middle of a vast blue ocean. Plus, after having so much good stuff, one's mind has already drifted away from the tables.    
While this place may be less swanky or flashy than its other sister outlets, the food was satisfying to generate memories that linger in our minds as we trudged our way home through the winter cold. Housed in a white traditional mansion, the place does not make you feel uptight or worried about breaking any food rules, unlike those strict sushi temples or upscale kaiseki restaurants. Visit the website and you can get a sense of the riotous style of the restaurant just like the psychedelic table mat that could greet or shock you. 

Have fun 

Giro Giro Kagurazaka くずし割烹 枝魯枝魯
Daily 5.30pm-12am
Fixed dinner at 4500 yen per pax
5-30 Kagurazaka, Shinjuku-ku
Reservations: 03-3269-8010
Nearest Station: Ushigome Kagurazaka (Oedo Line) Kagurazaka (Tozai Line) Iidabashi (JR Chuo Line)
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