Food & Drink | TOKYO FOOD FILE

Inua revisited: One year on from its grand opening

by Robbie Swinnerton

Contributing Writer

Aerated monkfish-liver terrine, drizzled with spruce oil and beechnuts. Enoki mushroom stem layered with venison lardo (cured fat). Toyama shiro-ebi shrimp on toasted kōji cake, served with fermented wild beach roses … There’s no mistaking where these starters are being served. At Inua, the cuisine is as unique and distinct as a fingerprint.

When it first opened in June last year, everything about Inua was new and exciting, not just the menu. The mysterious ninth-floor location atop an office building; the beautiful Scandinavia-meets-Japan dining room; indeed, the very concept of sourcing premium Japanese ingredients and giving them the Nordic treatment.

Amazingly, a year and a half in, Inua still feels just as innovative, especially the remarkable range of dishes emanating from head chef Thomas Frebel’s test kitchen and onto his menu. What has changed, inevitably, is that it no longer feels so experimental. There is a strength and confidence about his cooking now that reflects the long weeks of experience.

“What’s different now,” Frebel says, “is that we have a deeper understanding of the seasonal changes around Japan, and the ingredients they bring forth. We know better what to anticipate.”

Fall bamboo shoots topped with Miyazaki caviar. | JASON LOUCAS
Fall bamboo shoots topped with Miyazaki caviar. | JASON LOUCAS

Progress has come in other areas, too. Farmers and producers are slowly, cautiously starting to approach Inua with their produce — whereas in the first year or so, Frebel and his team spent a lot more time traveling the country, actively seeking out ingredients.

“They’re beginning to understand that we’re here for the long run,” he explains. “They see that we’re serious about what we’re doing. And they can see a bit how we use their ingredients in our dishes.”

And what ingredients they are. On Frebel’s early autumn menu he was featuring steamed king crab, fall bamboo shoot topped with Miyazaki caviar, and superb, flavorful wild Hokkaido venison, which he barbecues and daubs with a rich glaze made with wild magnolia seed.

Other notable highlights included a fillet of cured kinmedai (splendid alfonsino), roasted and arranged on its own backbone like a steak. And this: tofu that’s been inoculated and lightly cultured with Camembert mold, picking up the unmistakable aroma of the cheese in the process.

Even better in the light of day: With its Sunday lunch menu, visitors can get a proper look at Inua's handsome dining room. | JASON LOUCAS
Even better in the light of day: With its Sunday lunch menu, visitors can get a proper look at Inua’s handsome dining room. | JASON LOUCAS

The other good news is that since September, Inua has expanded its operating hours. It now serves lunch at least two Sundays a month, offering an abbreviated version of Frebel’s grand menu (also now available at dinner). This is a winner on so many levels.

It’s still a substantial meal, comprising seven courses. But it’s a smaller commitment of time — expect to be around two hours at the table instead of three — and money. Of course, at over ¥20,000 a head, it is still a considerable outlay, but a lot less daunting for first-time visitors.

The other factor that makes lunch so pleasurable is that you can look around properly in Inua’s handsome dining room while the light is streaming in, seeing the chefs in action in the kitchen, or gazing out across the city and feeling the context of where you’re sitting.

In the meantime, keep your eye on Inua’s website. There are plans soon to open up the lounge area, and serve drinks along with bar snacks in Frebel’s inimitable style.

Open Tue.-Sat. 5-11 p.m.; irregular Sun. lunch from 11.30 a.m., closed Mon.; lunch from ¥19,800, dinner ¥19,800 and ¥29,800; alcohol pairings from ¥9,500; English menu; English spoken

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