Kawamura in Ginza is a Western-cooking “yoshoku” restaurant, specializing in steak. It was brought to the attention of the English-speaking blogosphere in 2009 when Mikael Jonsson blogged about it on popular food blog Gastroville. It is one of the hardest reservations to get (one of the hardest in Tokyo along with Sushi Saito and Kyo Aji), and must be booked several months in advance and the diner accompanied by a regular on his/her first visit. The restaurant serves some of the best wagyu steak in the world – Chef Kawamura will source the beef from wherever he feels is best in Japan. Chef Kawamura is also a dedicated pursuer of the best ingredients worldwide – his caviar is sourced straight from Kazakhstan, and according to the grapevine, half of the best white truffle in Tokyo go to his restaurant.
With a formidable reputation, when I had the opportunity to go there with an invitation from a friend who’d been, I jumped at it. We planned an entire menu of Kawamura’s specialties. Although Kawamura’s is best-known as a steak restaurant, the excellence of his cooking and ingredients goes across the board – the onion rings there were the best I’ve tasted, a ethereally light negligee of panko batter around sweet and soft onions; a beef consommé had remarkable sweetness even though it was made of 100% beef; and of course the wagyu steak there had some of the most flavorful fat, the fat being marrow-esque (very pleasant) in texture, and the steak easily cut with a butter knife*.
There are some stories that have popped up about Kawamura, some of which are more fanciful than others.
- He only uses female virgin cows. False. Chef Kawamura will take the beef from wherever he feels is best. On our day, it was Ibaraki wagyu. The origin of the story is this blog (http://tokyofood.blog128.fc2.com/blog-entry-57.html).
- Chef Kawamura doesn’t age his beef. True. He believes that Japanese wagyu fat already has a strong flavor profile, that doesn’t need enhancement from aging. Source
- Chef Kawamura can make orders on special request. Probably true, though fried chicken, as far as I know, has not yet been served at his restaurant. However, there are many other dishes available to his regulars , from risotto to truffle ice cream to sashimi.
- A meal there is eye-wateringly expensive.Status: True. The damage can easily go above 100,000 yen, and was the most expensive meal I’ve had by some distance.. Kawamura isn’t a restaurant to approach on a budget. However, corkage charges are fairly low, so bringing your own wine is a good idea.
Highly recommended. If you have the opportunity, go there at least once, to acquire an idea of what the best of “Japanese wagyu”, “consomme”, “onion rings”, etc can be. Kawamura-san strikes me as one of a few elite chefs who has the capability and willingness to realize the ideal versions of what you’ve always wanted to try.
Other interesting write-ups:
* = One passing coincidence I find interesting is that both Kawamura and Asador Etxebarri, the great barbecue restaurant, have as their signature dishes, steak and creme caramel. These two dishes are common reference points, but where Victor Arguinzoniz of Etxebarri’s twist is infusing them with smoky flavors, Kawamura has refined the textures of his dishes – his steak soft, fatty, and profound in taste; his flan textbook, soft, and silky to the tongue.
- Steak tartare with shaved white truffles. (4.75/5) – Aromatic and crisp white truffles, evenly sliced, hid a mountain of deliciously fatty Ibaraki wagyu, in a caper and onion base sauce. Decadent and unbelievably fatty beefenhanced by the smell of truffle. It gave us a taste of what is to come, with the marrow-fat texture of steak tartare.
- Beef consomme made with 100% beef (5/5) – Kawamura’s most unbelievable dish. The consomme was made with 100% beef. However I simply could not believe it, for the sweetness of the consomme was perfect.I would have expected mirepoix (carrot, onion, celery) to achieve that sweetness. I have no idea which part of the cow or which techniques would enable this sweetness, and other chefs have been puzzled by this. A true masterpiece.
- Croquette of cream with white truffle slices; Croquette of white truffle slab with beef trimmings. (4.5/5). A moment of total indulgence. We ordered the white truffle supplement, and it came in two forms, one with cream and white truffle slices (excellent), and one with a slab of white truffle with beef trimmings (very good). The high heat diminished the truffle fragrance somewhat, and the truffle slab began to go (10-20%) vegetal, cardboard-y. It had been protected from heat of frying by the beef trimmings. A “meat and potato” croquette, in its most luxurious form, but to be honest, not my preferred preparation. For sheer outrageousness though, this takes some beating.
- Salad with a piquant sour cream sauce. Refreshing interlude before the steak.
- Ibaraki wagyu steak, sweated onions (5/5) – this was the steak I had travelled all the way to Tokyo for. It was as if marrow fat had seeped into every pore of the beef, with the fat just warmed to body temperature. The fat was beefy in scent, unlike the scentless fat in other types of over-fattened beef, and gently coated the butter knife as it slid through the steak. The steak crust (where the steak faces the heat and undergoes Maillard reactions) was not prominent in texture. It seemed like we were eating something delicate, a steak that had been subject to minimal violence. It is hard to imagine wagyu steak being any better than this.Chef Kawamura cooks the beef over low heat, such that the fat is of body temperature and meat is gently cooked to medium-rare. There is no seasoning, for Chef Kawamura believes it is best to taste the beef unadulterated, and served with dips of salt and soy. I personally found a little salt highlighted and heightened the beef flavors.
- Wagyu rice (5/5). Fatty wagyu slices released their fat over the rice. Delicious.
- Onion rings (5/5). The best form of onion rings I’ve had. A light panko batter around first-class sweet onion. The batter was a sheer negligee, forming a thin wisp of crust that lent the onion crisp textures without being oily.
- Spiny lobster rice (5/5). Incomparable. Fragrant lobster curry over rice. Fantastic. Remarkable fragrance. The smell and taste of lobster was profound, as if it was a bisque.
- Creme caramel with lime ice cream (icy) and vanilla ice cream. (5/5 for creme caramel, 4.75/5 for the ice creams) A textbook creme caramel, a smooth and satisfying end to the meal. The ice creams were a bit icy, but had great flavor. This was comfort food brought to a high level.
- Beef sandwich for taking home – toast, with tomato schmear and slices of fatty wagyu. For me, having them the next morning was a treasured memory of the excellent dinner at Kawamura the previous night.