kahala restaurant, osaka, japan

by Christine Piper September. 06, 2011 28002 views

In the tradition of Asian Women Who Have Food Blogs, here is my first humble offering.

It is long overdue, as Kris and I visited Kahala restaurant in Osaka, Japan in October 2010, and I have been meaning to write a blog post about it since. Kahala has been awarded two hats by Michelin since the Japanese edition was published in 2008.

The phrase “culinary institution” is often bandied about in food writing, but it's true in the case of Kahala. Chef Yoshifumi Mori, 66, started up the tiny 8-seat restaurant 40 years ago as a steak house. Although it's no longer a steak house, it still sports shiny metal hotplates that run the length of the counter—these days the hotplates are only used for one signature dish, millefeuille beef (see above)—and it still has only 8 seats. That's why it's so difficult to get a reservation: I had to book three months in advance. (As a side note: I tried to book Momen, a similar kappo-style restaurant that is supposed to be equally as good but half the price, but I was told they had no seats available for the next six months.)

Mori is self-taught, and counts chefs such as Tetsuya Wakuda as one of his many fans (apparently Tetsuya always tries to visit when he's in Osaka, and similarly Mori and his sous chef have visited Tetsuya in Sydney).

The food at Kahala can loosely be described as “kappo ryori”: a cross between traditional, posh kaiseki ryori and the more low-brow izakaya-style of food, Kappo cuisine is served in an intimate counter-style setting using high-quality ingredients, but it is less formal than kaiseki. And as someone who dislikes the stuffiness of kaiseki, I think kappo hits the right balance.

At Kahala, Mori serves locally sourced produce that you'd be hard-pressed to find in other restaurants: conger eel, mullet roe, vegetable-dyed sesame seeds, Fujiyama leaf (used in soup), cheese from Okayama-ken and white eggplant to name just a few.

The downside is it's bloody expensive: 30,000 yen per head (AU$370). And that's just for the food—we splurged on a nice bottle of wine and the entire meal cost us about 72,000 yen ($890). Was it worth it? Kris didn't quite think so. But for me, the intimacy of Kahala and the fact that we sat face-to-face with the chef as he prepared the food and explained where the ingredients came from was what made the experience special. The sous chef also told us that Mori paints all the lacquerware himself. It's the little things…

And that's why, almost a year on, I was still determined to write about it…

Chef and owner Yoshifumi Mori and his sous chef (who spoke decent English).

The 8-seat counter-style restaurant. A good way to get to know your fellow diners.

A mixed plate featuring a fried yama-imo (mountain yam) chain. It's not a trick! Apparently they peel it like that (with interconnecting links) in 1 minute. Amazing. The dish also featured my favourite, anago (salt-water eel), tofu and paprika and homagi conger eel with XO sauce.

Jamon Iberico with fermented garlic (the dark stuff).

Chef Mori showed us this lovely parcel of smooth Okayama cheese. (What I love about this photo you can't see: Mori was very patiently holding the cheese and smiling for the camera, but little did he know only his hand was in the shot! I was using my super-long 100mm macro lens.)

Creamy grilled Okayama cheese with a grilled sheet of nori—the perfect combination!

Hmm—can't quite remember what this dish is. It's either homagi conger eel with XO sauce, or a mix of namako (sea slug), fungus and maitake mushroom. That's definitely some finely sliced shiso leaf on top!

Risotto made with green rice from Nara, with maitake mushroom and crab.

The green rice from Nara used in the above dish.

Soba with mullet roe.

A sizzling plate of escargot in miso sauce and abalone in cheese fondue.

Watercress salad with vegetable-dyed sesame seeds and buckwheat. So simple, but so tasty!

I don't normally eat red meat but I made an exception for the restaurant's signature dish of millefeuille beef; and my, it was tasty! The five fatty layers of wafer-thin beef worked so well with the wasabi… in fact, it hardly tasted like beef at all (a good thing for me).

This is Mori's signature dish: five layers of millefeuille beef served with fresh wasabi, freshly grated daikon and a drizzle of ponzu.

Spinach and a special kind of Kyoto vegetable (Kyoto is famous for its rare, heirloom vegetables).

Grilled white eggplant.

Korean zucchini.

Rice with slimy yama imo (mountain yam), egg and buckwheat. Japanese cuisine always ends with a carbohydrate-based dish to fill up on.

A combination of merlot grapes and chardonnay grapes grown in Osaka.

Fresh fig and chestnut.

Nashi covered in dark chocolate.

Aniseed sweets.

We got to take home little baggies of aniseed and the vegetable-dyed sesame seeds—my favourite! (Great on plain rice.)

Mori, Kris and me.

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Christine Piper 6 years ago

Oh, thanks Al! Next up: Noma restaurant...

6 years ago Edited
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