Slightly Peckish: Mitsukoshi Restaurant (LDN)
In Junichiro Tanizaki's celebrated novel, The Makioka Sisters (or Sasameyuki (細雪), loosely translated as 'light snow' or 'a flurry of snow'--titles in translations are always so different but I guess it's as much about nuance as meaning), the four Makioka sisters, Tsuruko, Sachiko, Yukiko and Taeko, all born and bred in Osaka, take a trip to Tokyo where the eldest Tsuruko has relocated for financial reasons. From a once-wealthy family in decline, Tanizaki's gentle tale of sibling relationships and marriage follows their search for a suitable match for the third sister Yukiko while the youngest, Taeko, chafes against the social codes of pre-war Japan and is ultimately punished for her attempts to break free from social expectations.
In Tokyo, they do the rounds, sightseeing, dining and shopping and one of the places they visit is Japan's most famous department store Mitsukoshi in Nihonbashi, originally founded as a kimono shop in 1673. Now an international chain with stores all over Japan, Asia and Europe, the London store opened in 1985. I even came across one in Munich although it's no longer open. Like Harrods and Fortnum & Mason's, Mitsukoshi is synonymous with quality, elegance and taste.
Mitsukoshi London is small, but remains a regular pit-stop for Japanese tourists doing last-minute gift shopping as they mainly stock brand names and souvenirs. However, they do have a rather lovely restaurant in the basement. As students in the mid-90s, my Japanese friends and I would walk past sighing as we perused their menu as there were few affordable and authentic Japanese restaurants then. It's one of the places Japanese families would go to celebrate a special occasion such as birthdays and graduations.
And so my Japanese pianist friend K and I decided to go there to celebrate her pregnancy. It was also rather serendipitous as K, who is normally a very adventurous eater, found she could no longer stomach any spice and could only eat Japanese food. Baby bump rules. And so off to Mitsukoshi Restaurant we went. It's one of those restaurants that as you enter, you are instantly enveloped in a feeling of familiarity and comfort. It's as though you've stepped back in time to a Japan of your childhood. It's calm, quiet and very Japanese department store-ish.
K went for the lunch set of the month and chose an all sushi lunch. The starters were impressive. There was a selection of nigiri, maguro (tuna) no tataki with avocado and some scallops with tobiko.
As was the main course. She was happily munching away at all the raw fish. I was seriously jealous of her sushi as I love white fish and shell fish but I was, unfortunately, off my seafood. Grrr.
I couldn't resist the Iberico pork oroshi tonkatsu set lunch. I love daikon oroshi (grated mooli/radish) and this came with a slightly ponzu-ish dipping sauce. I normally eat katsu with Japanese tonkatsu sauce (a bit like Worcestershire sauce but thicker and sweeter) mixed with chilli sauce (I can't escape from my Sri Lankan DNA), but this was very more-ish. And SO Japanese. And the portions were pretty generous too.
There wasn't much dessert choice so we both got ice cream: matcha (green tea) and affogato (vanilla with espresso). We talked non-stop, went for a little walk around Piccadilly Circus and found ourselves in front of the much talked-about new gelateria Gelupo for another round of ice cream. I did say baby bump rules, right?
I had grapefruit and espresso and K had mandarin and chocolate. I normally shy away from quotidian flavours (except for coffee--I just don't have the willpower to say no), but I have to say, the chocolate was absolutely divine. It was so rich and dark. We both agreed it's the best we've ever had.