Two of Japan’s hottest chefs. A collaboration dreamed up during late-night fishing trips. And a remarkable menu that tethers contemporary Japanese to modern French cuisine in a style all its own. It’s fair to say Tokyo has never seen an opening quite like Denkushiflori.
Zaiyu Hasegawa and Hiroyasu Kawate need no introduction as chefs, and neither do their respective restaurants, Den and Florilege. They both have two Michelin stars, global reputations and legions of fans. So from the moment in late June they announced — via Instagram, wearing angling gear, each holding up fish they’d caught — that they were embarking on a new joint project, news spread fast.
The lack of firm details only fueled the anticipation. No address was given, just the closest subway stop, Omotesando. There were no clues as to who would actually be running it, or who the chef would be. They didn’t even let on what food they’d be serving, merely that the key concept was kushi (skewer) cuisine, and that it wasn’t a yakitori-style grill.
All is now revealed. On Sept. 30, the first customers were ushered across the threshold by Denkushiflori’s manager, Kyoko Hashimoto — a familiar face for regulars at Florilege — and through the impressive timber doorway into the dining room. The first impression is that the layout is much like at Florilege, with a 16-seat counter running three sides of the open kitchen, but it’s a lot more compact, intimate and Japanese in its interior design.
While neither Hasegawa nor Kawate are actually present — they still have their own restaurants to run — their DNA is evident in every dish on the eight-course omakase (tasting) menu. All are expertly rendered by Denkushiflori’s young chef, Yuji Morita, and his team, as becomes clear from the very first appetizer.
A finger-sized portion of boudin noir is breaded and deep-fried, then skewered on a bamboo kushi, topped with finely sliced apple and served with a dab of wagarashi mustard. It’s superb as a starter, light but rich, the fattiness nicely balanced by the apple and mustard. Accompanied by a glass of Franciacorta bubbly — the optional drinks pairing is excellent value — this would not be out of place at all on the Florilege menu.
The next course is a true collaborative effort between the two chefs. Iwashi tsukune (elongated “fishballs” of minced sardine) are grilled over charcoal, skewered and presented side by side on the same platter with a generous scoop of chicken liver mousse dusted with powdered shiokonbu (salted kelp) and desiccated lemon.
A lovely, creamy bisque arrives, accompanied by a skewered wedge of deep-fried ebi-imo (large Kyoto taro). And then another superlative dish: ohitashi eggplant (steamed, skinned and skewered), covered with a puree of its soft flesh, garnished with the aubergine-colored, paper-like skin and the deep-fried cap of the same vegetable.
At Florilege, Kawate does wonderful things with pigeon. Here, his idea is to take slices of still-rare breast and leg meat, sandwiching them on either side of a single plump amaebi (spot prawn) and holding it all together with skewers. On the side you’ll find a portion of pigeon liver mousse. There will also be a little bowl of delicate, homemade pasta, bathed in a fragrant pigeon broth — a small signature dish from Morita, whose background is in Italian cuisine.
Because Denkushiflori has two fixed sittings each evening (from 5 and 8 p.m.), the meal moves along at a good pace, with no overlong waits between courses. And, as at Den, it culminates with rice cooked in a donabe clay pot, with seasonal cep and maitake mushrooms mixed in, served with a generous confit of skewered gyūtan (beef tongue). It is prepared expertly: Morita has learned fast and well from Hasegawa.
By now it will have escaped no one’s notice that, save for the light dessert that brings the meal to its close, every single course features at least one of the aforementioned bamboo skewers. And that they’re used not in the actual cooking, but for plating the food and holding it together.
This is where their significance lies for Hasegawa and Kawate, and the reason for the name of their new restaurant. For them, the kushi is symbolic of bonding and friendship — the link between those dining together, between staff and customers, and between the two chefs themselves.
Recently Hasegawa has been publicly musing about his strong connection with Kawate. They are near contemporaries in age, and opened their restaurants within a year of each other. Over the following decade-plus they have celebrated their rising fortunes with some epic collaboration dinners — early harbingers of this new restaurant — and also shared commiserations in more difficult times.
By 2016, their restaurants had become close neighbors and the chefs’ mutual interest in angling had flared into a serious passion. It was only a matter of time before they set up in business together. No surprise that they’ve called their joint company Jingumae Fishing Club.
Offering casual fine dining that’s affordable but worth dressing up for, Denkushiflori appears to be perfectly pitched for these uncertain times. In fact, it may be Tokyo’s opening of the year.
Gems Aoyama Cross B1A, Jingumae 5-46-7, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0001; 03-6427-2788; denkushiflori.com; open 5-7:30 p.m. and 8-11 p.m.; closed Mon.; dinner from ¥9,800, drinks pairing ¥4,000; takeout not available; nearest station Omotesando; nonsmoking; major cards accepted; English menu; English spoken