What a difference a year makes. Roughly 365.25 days ago I was sat in Aqua Kyoto, surrounded by my workmates in a job that wasn’t challenging enough, hiding my blogging obsession and being teased about having a raging travel addiction. Funnily enough, our big group were seated at the very table that I took the below photo on. So many things have changed, though the raging travel obsession (obviously) hasn’t subsided.
Disclaimer: We were invited guests of Aqua Kyoto but my (very many) thoughts are only ever mine and my repeat visits, I mean victory feasts attest to simply how much I enjoy their cuisine.
This time around, I’m becoming an established freelancer with clients who seem fairly happy, I’ve written articles for all kinds of places and I’ve been to New Zealand and back, but I still love to schedule in lunchtimes of indulgence and zen because goodness knows I’m only a human-bean. But, that’s more than enough rambling about me.
The last time we were in to review at Aqua Kyoto (for the bottomless brunch – and just for the record I’ve been back twice since on my own dime), and as I wrote then, every monumental expedition should be celebrated with a victory feast.
Sir Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay as they summited the jagged peaks of Mount Everest, Susanoo-no-Mikoto (the Shinto god of the sea and storms) defeating the eight-headed dragon Yamata no Orochi, and, er, me conquering the shoe-aholic shopping crowds that crest the busy shops in Oxford Circus and Regents Street – we all had reason for jubilation and a touch of bacchanal merrymaking.
This time we were in fledgeling festive spirits, and Angie, Mina, Angie’s lovely nephew (blog to come, kidding), her sister Jen and I settled around the table on a Monday mid-morning to chat all things kittens, kids and canines for a few hours.
We began, as all good Japanese meals do with rock salt sprinkled edamame and a cheerful Christmas cocktail that reminded me of Christmas Eve celebrations.
Fellow Kiwi and Group Executive Chef Paul Greening has been at Aqua for four years (his CV is a veritable gourmet who’s who, having worked for Pierre Koffman, Marcus Wareing and Pierre Gagnaire all over the globe) and he introduced himself to our excited group before sharing an insight into his passion for gastronomy. Strangely enough, Paul and I attended the same New Zealand Unversity, though he studied a Microbiology degree that continues to influence his flavour adventures at every level of creativity.
So after our warming Miso soups were cleared away, we were super excited to explore the Go Zen boxes with our eager chopsticks. Unable to choose between the fish/meat or vegetarian offering of a dozen delicate servings, we went for both. Because, bloggers with appetites.
The idea of Go Zen boxes is that they are special occasion Bento selections – and to borrow another cultural idea, they are my kind of Tapas. Presenting each diner with a variety of delectable dishes of varying flavours, textures and experiences, each beautiful dish has twelve carefully selected unusual yet harmonious dishes. The dishes include a melt in the mouth wagyu beef, delicious tempura prawn cubes, Oshizushi of salmon, avocado and tozazu, a sliver of black cod and ‘aqua style’ vegetable sushi, featuring mango skin which is made in-house.
The shojin go zen is the vegan option, with dishes including kimchee pickles, sakura rice (scented with salted cherry blossom, topped with nori and sesame) and kenji rolls with daikon sauce – vegetables rolled with enoki mushrooms and ginger. To our surprise, the box also contains pickled crow garlic, picked annually in June and then double fermented and used throughout the year by Chef Greening.
Compartments of joy I’d call them or よろこび の くかくif I were any better at the Japanese skills I should have had from High School lessons.
The interior always reminds me of the lush restaurants we visited in Japan, with sumptuous dark lacquer, undulating etchings and vibrant red accents.
The last time I had such a lovely array of tastes were at our New Year celebrations in Kyoto, on the tabletop of our Japanese friends who had kindly arranged for their favourite local chef to put together an array of his time-won skills.
We split two desserts around the table (and you can get smaller, quicker versions of the boxes if in a hurry or you want to leave more room for the crowning course); a bowl of “Forest Floor” made with yuzu oba leaf cream, almond praline, chocolate and azuki bean paste with sour cherry sorbet which was perfectly matched as a cornucopia, and the chocoraito delisu which as the name suggests is lovely – a smoked chocolate delice with sesame praline, kaki fruit sorbet and ginger wafers.
It was such a lovely lunch, and I suspect I might just have to take a few clients there as an excuse to pop back into Aqua Kyoto before the festive season is out.
If only I could have told my year younger self how tasty the future would look…