Tokyo in summer is a challenge for even the most robust constitutions. Tokyo in a summer heatwave is down-right insufferable. The air is so thick with humidity that walking through the congested streets of Shibuya is akin to wadding through human soup. Thankfully, there is respite one stop away in the rarified streets that parallel the Meguro river, in Ikejiri-Ohashi. The balmy breeze and chi-chi environs are a welcome reprieve from the ‘heat island’ conditions of Center Gai, and our evening stroll along the river proved to be the perfect way to soothe the senses and restore lethargic appetites.
There are many well-appointed eateries to indulge in within this leafy borough, but I had one destination clearly in my cross-hairs: KAN, a shop that has been at the top of my wish list since spying a favourable review in Kateigaho. It had continually been nixed due to latent concerns that it was too おしゃれ (stylish), which invariably means that the focus is on the surroundings and not on the plate. As tonight was a 久しぶり meal with the stylist, Big West, the question de jour was: Is it possible to have style and substance? Yes. Yes it is – on both counts.
Like moths to the flame we were drawn to the light that glowed invitingly from KAN’s striking glass frontage. Within the interior is a study in minimalist elegance; sparse stone and granite tiles juxtaposed with liner wooden accents. A long cedar counter, which seats 14, faces the kitchen and, in the rear, a U-shaped counter provides an adjacent dining area for a further 10. According to our host, the U-shaped counter was also the inspiration for the shop’s name: 凵 – as it is written in kanji; an open box that encloses. While the interior is sparse, subtle lighting, comfortable seating and simple decorative displays of ceramics give the space a feeling of warmth rather than austerity. The ambience is cool and laid back, as are the diners; bright-young-creative-types, who call this neighbourhood home.
Seated at the main counter, the kitchen was the focus of our attention, and what a sight it was to behold. The three chefs, who look as though they were selected from a music video casting call rather than culinary school, work their designated stations with focus and precision, producing traditional izakaya fare with a contemporary and creative riff – all without putting a hair of their slick quiffs out of place. Watching them turn out plate after plate of stunning dishes, there was little doubt we would be dining well tonight.
Time to re-hydrate. Saisho nama birus were quickly ordered from the comprehensive drinks menu, which offers a range of premium wines, shochu and nihonshu. The sake list is not the longest or the best value, but someone knows their stuff here and the dozen or so brands on offer are of good grade and providence.
The menu, which comes in the form of a long washi scroll written in attractive cursive kanji text, is a thoughtful tribute to the seasons. Attention to seasonality is such that KAN changes the menu every 15 days to ensure that the quality of ingredients is at an optimum. As it was summer, organic vegetables and katsuo had starring roles on the evenings specials list, along with a tempting array of grilled fish, roasted meat, and aromatic simmered dishes.
First up, our otooshi; a warm broth of tai (snapper), bamboo shoots and new season enoki mushroom, accompanied with a small dish of its grilled skin dressed with a sweet miso dressing. A fine start to the proceedings.