Kaiseki and Cocktails

One night about a month ago, Mr. GIJ came home and asked if I’d like to go to a cocktail event. “Of course!” I mean, do you really have to ask?? No more details were given other than that the event in question was a cocktail party for the opening of a new bar. We were given a time and location (the rather lovely Hana Touro Hotel in Gion) and we prepared ourselves for a night of cocktails and perhaps some canapés, before arranging to meet some friends for dinner later that evening. 

We turned up and were whisked into the hotel restaurant where two chefs were busying themselves in the open kitchen and 12 seats were arranged around the beautiful counter-style dining area. We glanced at each other, slightly confused. We must be in the wrong place, we were expecting a cocktail party. No, no! Rest assured we were indeed where we were supposed to be and we were pointed in the direction of two of the place settings at the counter. Not the opening of a bar, but a pop-up restaurant. We opened the menu and it suddenly clicked that our invitation had been wonderfully lost in translation and that what in fact awaited us was a blissful (and rather decadent) evening of kaiseki cuisine paired with Japanese inspired cocktails from world-renowned bartender Shingo Gokan. My jaw hit the floor.

The evening was indeed the opening for this incredible kaiseki pop-up, with Shingo flying in from Shanghai (where he owns and runs Speak Low cocktail bar) especially for the launch. Each course was perfectly prepared. Shiny little works of art on the plate accompanied by some of the most imaginative and well-balanced cocktails that I’ve ever tasted. The KI NO BI gin cold pineapple soup made my lips pucker in all the right places, augmenting the fresh sweetness of the prawn ceviche with which it was paired. It was a masterpiece, all shaken and stirred by Shingo in front of our very eyes, whilst the incredibly talented chefs worked their magic dishing up their own version of Japanese classics, fused with tasty treats that were definitely not typical of the land of the rising sun, but that flooded the tastebuds with something so special it was as if they were made to only savour this one dish from that moment on. Until the next one arrived and it all happened again.

The highlight of the evening was not only the food and cocktails but the opening of a double magnum of 26 year aged Tsuki no Katsura sake, thrown (akin to a fine sherry) to aerate and open up the wonderful liquid that was served with the most delectable dashi stewed egg topped with ultra fresh sea urchin. The theatrics of the Sake throwing combined with the rarity of the bottling was so exciting that pictures were being snapped and videos captured. Guests were up on their feet, cheering and clapping and generally creating an atmosphere that most high end joints would pay to emulate. It was a delight.

By the time dessert came around, the drinks had been flowing and the conversation stimulating. The dinner was an education, where each course was explained in detail and the alcohol pairing behind it meticulously executed. The pop-up is a collaboration between Kishin Kitchen in the Hana Touro Hotel which is a shared kitchen space, inviting chefs from all over the world to run the restaurant for stints of up to six months, and Sake Caliente, a pop-up Sake experience based in New York City and Kyoto. It’s running until the end of summer and reservations can be made by visiting their website. Trust me, you do not want to miss this…

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