You know that indescribable moment, that subtle bliss when the sun shines after an unexpected snow storm? The Ikigai menu at Aqua Kyoto is a sliver of that; a light, delicious 3-course selection of delicacies, served with a cocktail and petit fours sweetbox that will surprise and delight. No storm necessary.
Disclaimer: We were invited guests of Aqua Kyoto but my (very many) thoughts are only ever mine – repeat visits on my own dime time and time again attest to simply how much I enjoy their cuisine.
Ikigai (生き甲斐) is a Japanese concept that means “a reason for being,” similar to the French phrase Raison d’être.
Everyone, according to Japanese culture, has an ikigai. Finding it requires a deep and often lengthy search of self and such a search is important to the cultural belief that discovering one’s ikigai brings satisfaction and meaning to life.
The term ikigai compounds two Japanese words: iki (wikt:生き) meaning “life; alive” and kai (甲斐) “(an) effect; (a) result; (a) fruit; (a) worth; (a) use; (a) benefit; (no, little) avail” (sequentially voicedas gai) “a reason for living [being alive]; a meaning for [to] life; what [something that] makes life worth living; a raison d’etre”.
All I know is that my friend and I were comfortably ensconced on our table, watching the snow begin to drift downwards over London. (Ok, ok, between dashing excitedly in and out onto the terrace to catch snowflakes.) Contentment was level 1,000.
The word ikigai is usually used to indicate the source of value in one’s life or the things that make one’s life worthwhile. Secondly, the word is used to refer to mental and spiritual circumstances under which individuals feel that their lives are valuable. It’s not linked to one’s financial status. Even if a person feels that the present is dark, but they have a goal in mind, they may feel ikigai. Behaviours that make us feel ikigai are not actions we are forced to take—these are natural and spontaneous actions.
Spending time with good people? Now, I’ll call that valuable.
My date slipped slightly off the Ikigai menu with her favourite horensou goma ae – a salad of spinach, toasted sesame seeds crushed at the table to fill the air with aroma and just the right ratio of goma dressing.
At the same time as the snow really began to settle, we were presented with a cocktail
I really enjoyed the umami suckling pork belly with eel, root vegetables and jade oil, served with soft fluffy rice to catch all of those delicious flavours…
…while my lunch date teased me by sharing the occasional spoonfuls of her wild Japanese mushroom and chestnut gohan (risotto) and shiitake miso foam. One of the aspects of this menu is that nothing is wasted in keeping with the ethos of ikigai; each dish uses every part of the plant/meat so that nothing is wasted.
To round our lunch off, we enjoyed the Forest Floor, a divine sour cherry sorbet, presented on a bed of azuki chocolate, almond praline and yuzu shiso cream. The idea is that it symbolises the ecosystem with the connotations of balance and purpose espoused by Ikigai lifestyle – a decidedly tasty way to ensure your chi is well balanced.
The Ikigai menu at Aqua Kyoto would be a lovely post-shopping lunch or as a light dinner, and is a perfect spot to host a business meeting. (Goodness knows I’ve been in for a few.)
Do you find yourself with favourite restaurants that you return to time and time again, or prefer to explore all of the new London openings?