Date of Visit: March 1 2013
The Kaga cuisine of Kanazawa is a distinct regional cuisine known as kaiseki ryori (a traditional Japanese multi-course meal) which is famed for fresh seafood caught off the Sea of Japan, rice and vegetables growned in the Kaga Plain and superior sake made from the quality water from the Hakusan Mountains.
It was a lucky fluke that Zeniya turned up in my search for fine dining in in Kanazawa. Little did I know that Chef Shinichiro Takagi is well-known for his innovative approach to Japanese cooking. Zeniya’s founder was his father who started the restaurant in 1970.
We were thrilled to find out that Chef T spoke English and kept us entertained and informed throughout dinner about the local culture and places to visit. He also told us that he has another restaurant in Kanazawa in the Geisha district and another overseas branch in Seoul. He also divulged that his father and him were invited to open a fine dining establishment in Sydney in the 80’s, but the deal did not go through. With training from the famous Kyoto Kitcho restaurant and having studied abroad including a stint in New York, it’s no wonder then, Chef T regularly guest chef overseas. On the night of our dinner, he and his team of chefs had just returned from a week long of cooking for a private function in Saudi Arabia.
The unassuming restaurant is actually a 2-storey building with large private dining spaces, popular with the local politicians, media personalities including overseas star chefs Tetsuya and Alain Duccase! To be close to action, we chose to sit at the eight-seater counter.
The food at Zeniya is a celebration of the culinary culture of Kanazawa, where local produce is artfully presented and also healthfully with a twist.
White Fish with Amasake (a traditional Japanese sweet low alcohol drink made from fermented rice)
An artfully arranged pair of fish atop fresh produce in sweet mirin
YACHIYA SAKE from the most famous and oldest sake brewery in Kanazawa. It is a family business started in 1628 and currently in its 16th generation. True to Japanese family-run restaurant tradition, his wife came out to pour a round of sake for us.
There has been comments that kaiseki was developed in Kanazawa as a means to show off the fine lacquerware. The lacquer ware and crockery that the food were presented at Zeniya were from Chef T’s father’s collection from over 40 years ago. They are still in pristine condition. Chef T also mentioned that a must-visit in Kanazawa is the gold leaf factory where he had accompanied Alain Duccase to buy 200 sets of gold-leaved chopsticks!
The soup was very light, yet bursting with umami. Egg and fish, wakame with wild fern from the mountains and a slice of carrot to add colour
Sashimi, prawns in yuzu accompanied by local tomatoes.
The star of the plate is definitely the baby tomatoes. Have you ever seen such small cherry tomatoes? Red distinctive rings on the the prawns marking freshness and ‘seasoned’ by the squeeze of yuzu juice.
Chef T’s explained that this is his twist on carpaccio. Bonito shavings on marinated sashimi decorated with edible flowers. It certainly has a ‘twist’, very tasty and ‘Italian’ with additional flavouring, departuring from the traditional sashimi of soy sauce and wasabi. The piece of fish practically melts on my tongue.
The prepping of the locally sourced Manjugai clam was a bit violent! The clam was given a few slaps on table to toughen it, because otherswise it would be too soft. Then sliced and presented on a bowl of ice. The rock was handpicked from the river, less than 10% made it to the table since it need to sustain very high temperature. This is a DIY where we cook the clam on a hot stone, then dip the clam into the soy sauce under the watchful eye of the chefs.
Assorted Sashimi accompanied by local Kaga root vegetables
This is an exquisite platter of appetisers. Each piece is meticulously prepared. The star here is the Firefly Squid on a gold-plated plate that Kanazawa is so famous for. The squid signals the arrival of Spring and is special as it emits blue light.
Milky and tender – what more can I say?
Kogashima Beef, one of the Top 3 beefs in Japan, served with freshly grated wasabi, turnip and leeks. The beef was not fatty, but meltingly tender.
Grilling the crab legs
Lots of fiddly work to pick the meat out of the long spindly legs of the crabs, so co-operations of 2 chefs are needed. Chef T on the right with his second-in-command.
Accompanied by pickles and wakame
O-Cha to cleanse our palate
A very simple dessert to finish our meal – a humongously sweet strawberry
Dining at Zeniya is not cheap at ¥30,000 per person, but Chef Takagi – with his entertaining stories and sociable demeanour – completes the experience.