The establishments around Matsumoto Eiraku in Osaka’s Kitashinchi neighborhood have names like La Madonna, Salon de Miyu, Lady Hawk and Blanc de Blanc. This may suggest the restaurant keeps ostentatious company, but you should never judge a building by its marble colonnades; the aesthetic inside is austere and minimalist, and the atmosphere hushed. There are several private dining rooms that are hidden from sight, but the best seats are at the counter — a gorgeous piece of unvarnished timber.
Kitashinchi really only comes alive at night, but some restaurants there still do great lunch deals. Matsumoto stands out among them. The lunch menu is comprehensive, starting at ¥1,600 for a basic dish and hitting ¥5,300 for a mini course, which is what I opted for. As with most kappo-style (counter style) restaurants, the menu doesn’t give much away — the details are in the dish — and the chef explains each course. The chef who guided us through lunch says he has been working for owner-chef Genzo Matusumoto for the past 20 years. He also acts as a mentor to the young apprentices there, some of whom look like they are just out of high school. They have a long road ahead of them, but are in good hands if this chef is anything to go by.
The first serving in my mini course might have been the best. Octopus was given the simmered pork treatment, and in this instance it was simmered for hours in soy sauce and dashi giving it a deep, but delicate taste. It was accompanied by green peas in a pool of dashi, a sweet-and-sour vinegar-infused bite of red snapper and a portion of creamy tofu. If I decided to go pescatarian for the rest of my life and eat just one thing, this might be it.
Sashimi followed with cuts of tuna and halibut, accompanied by yuba (the skin of tofu) and wasabi. The sashimi was garnished by a piece of edible origami, a carrot coil that I’m guessing takes about a thousand hours and as many carrots to perfect.
Keeping with the mantra of cooking with the season, hamo (pike conger eel) came just ahead of a set of more meatier dishes. The tempura dish was as good as any I have had at a specialty restaurant. The ayu (sweet fish) dipped in salt was a delight, as was the miso-sweetened salmon and sea bream. Even the sweet potato had a vitality that lead to despair when I thought of the poor imitations I serve my son. I suppose ignorance is bliss, for him anyway.
The penultimate dish needed no explanation from our chef: spare rib on a bed of lettuce. It nearly fell off the bone as I picked it up. Tsukemono (pickled vegetables) and jako meshi (rice with fried fish) as well as aka dashi (red miso soup) rounded out lunch. It truly was a wonderful and artful meal.
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