The instant you see Kuriya Kashi Kurogi you know it’s special. The hidden location, verdant setting and striking architecture are more than remarkable — they are one of a kind. With the Kurogi name, you expect nothing less.
Chef Jun Kurogi’s eponymous ryōriya (traditional Japanese restaurant) is one of the best and most in-demand in the city. It was only a matter of time before he opened up another place — and only a matter of course that it would be impressive.
In contrast with his atmospheric restaurant — a converted 80-year-old geisha teahouse in the backstreets of Yushima — Kuriya Kashi Kurogi is as contemporary as you can get. It sits in a wooded corner of the University of Tokyo’s campus, on the ground floor of an imposing building covered entirely with layered wooden slats — one of architect Kengo Kuma’s trademarks — with a view of wildflowers and fresh foliage.
But Kuriya Kashi Kurogi is not just a new branch; it’s a whole new operation. The focus here is on artisan wagashi, the confections that have developed over the centuries as an adjunct to Japan’s traditional cuisine. Unlike most other sweets shops in the city, here the deserts are made to order — in just the same way that Kurogi does for customers at his restaurant, at the end of dinner.
In winter and spring, the specialty is warabi mochi, a soft, dark jelly prepared from starch extracted painstakingly from the roots of wild bracken plants. Needless to say, this ingredient is neither plentiful or cheap.
Whipped up by hand in the open kitchen — a process that takes a good five minutes — the warabi mochi is served along with a dip of thick, bittersweet black-sugar syrup, plus freshly ground kinako (a nutty flour made from roasted soybeans) and powdered green tea to sprinkle on top. The combination of flavors, colors and textures is addictive, beautiful and surprisingly filling.
In summer, the featured wagashi is freshly made kuzukiri, clear ribbons also made from a rare starch — this one derived from the root of the kuzu vine. Served chilled, in much the same way as the warabi mochi, they make a light, cooling hot-weather snack.
These confections alone are worth a special visit. The fact that it’s a tie-up with the Ebisu-based Sarutahiko Coffee company is a further bonus. But Kuriya Kashi Kurogi has another string to its bow that makes it even more worth knowing.
With advance notice of two days you can order a deluxe bentō (boxed lunch) prepared at the main restaurant and delivered just ahead of your arrival. The box is beautifully presented, with a floral decoration and crammed with goodies.
You will find seafood, both grilled and deep-fried; delectable cubes of beef tongue, or other meat; vegetables and pickles; and generous slices of Kurogi’s superb, fluffy tamagoyaki (rolled omelet). The rice is adorned with seasonal accents — currently thin slivers of bamboo shoots. Next month, it will feature hotaru-ika (small firefly squid).
With seats at Kurogi restaurant so hard to come by — even three months ahead, it tends to be booked solid — this is currently the best way for the rest of us to get to taste why chef Kurogi’s cooking is in such hot demand.
Robbie Swinnerton blogs at www.tokyofoodfile.com
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