kahala restaurant, osaka, japan
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…
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