table talk

A homey Okayama touch at Kaiseki Teppan Iroha

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By Jessica Sayuri Boissy

Makoto Imai is a multi-hyphenate chef who boasts a colorful resume of formal training in Chinese, French and washoku (classical Japanese cuisine). Six months ago, he was running an acclaimed restaurant in Okayama Prefecture specializing in kaiseki teppan: a melange of kaiseki (elaborate multi-course meals) and teppanyaki (sizzling dishes seared on an iron griddle).

In May, Kaiseki Teppan Iroha reopened its doors in Tokyo’s Azabu-juban neighborhood, nestled beside the lively entertainment district of Roppongi.

The son of an okonomiyaki (savory grilled pancakes) cook and restauranteur, it’s not surprising to learn how Imai’s culinary path eventually led him to the teppanyaki griddle: a cooking instrument, if not arena, where performance, precision and plating take center stage.

However, relocating his successful eating establishment from his hometown in western Japan to the Japanese capital was an audacious career move.

“At the insistence of my Tokyo-based customers, I finally jumped at the opportunity and moved my restaurant from Okayama during Golden Week,” the personable chef recounts with a beaming smile. His equally charming wife, who serves as a hostess, chimes in, “We packed everything—from the countertops to the custom-fitted griddle—into a truck and came here.”

These homey touches to the warm, welcoming husband-wife restaurant are not hard to discern.

Keepsakes from Iroha’s previous location adorn the wooden interior, creating a folksy haven that emanates an inviting home-away-from-home vibe. Across from the 10-seater granite countertops, a jovial-looking statue of Daikoku (the god of good fortune) appears as if granting a fortuitous evening ahead for its guests. Penned by Mrs Imai, even the breezy Japanese calligraphy on the walls echo an authentically intimate ambience where the dishes are unostentatiously opulent and ornate.

From à la carte options to courses based on seasonality and ingredients, Iroha’s accessible price point starts from ¥5,000 at lunch and ¥8,000 at dinner. More extravagant meals featuring higher-grade cuts of beef go for ¥15,000 to ¥22,000; however, premium Okayama wagyu makes a scrumptious appearance in every set menu—be it shabu shabu, sirloin steak or shaped into sushi.

Guests may also customize their courses to accommodate asari (lighter, more refreshing) taste preferences, an array of gyutan-centric (beef tongue) dishes, or be all about the finest kaisen (seafood delicacies ranging from abalone to Ise-ebi —Japanese spiny lobster).

Our eight-course dinner (¥15,000) commenced with a glass of bubbly and a bruschetta-like amuse-bouche: slowly simmered beef tongue in umami-laden tomato sauce to be spooned onto a crisped baguette. Keeping with the theme of Okayama-sourced ingredients, the subsequent pale orange potage was made with Momotaro tomatoes and chunks of jidori (free-range) chicken. A slice of buttered toast, grilled on the griddle, paired nicely with the creamy combo.

The third dish was abalone carpaccio, accented with red bell peppers, plated beside a crisp Norwegian salmon fritter. The mini morsel fried a perfect golden brown revealed a moist pink center upon the first bite. Then shifting from seafood to steak, a well-marbled wagyu nigiri—dressed in a dollop of caviar and gold leaf—provided the much-anticipated melt-in-your-mouth texture of premium beef.

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However, the pinnacle of the teppanyaki dinner came plated on a red lacquer tray carrying four dipping condiments and Okayama beef prepared three ways. A thinly sliced strip marinated in soy sauce complemented the refreshing side of fresh wasabi and daikon oroshi (grated radish). Another strip was plunged in black truffle broth (shabu shabu style) and wrapped around piquant raw scallions. But the knockout was a seared sirloin and peach pairing—yet another tasty nod to Okayama Prefecture.

After a round of sautéed vegetables, an aromatic palate cleanser of truffle broth accompanied the customary final dish of the night: a bowl of rice. But breaking from the predictable teppan-cooked garlic rice, Iroha offers five grandiose alternatives from foie gras fried rice to finely flaked salmon ochazuke (steaming tea-soaked rice). I opted for the comforting, hearty curry with braised gyusuji (beef tendon) to cap off a surprisingly light dinner that centered around both Japanese steakhouse staples and sumptuous morsels of wagyu.

But by far, Iroha’s personable, eager-to-please husband-and-wife duo embodies the makings of a memorable meal: attentive service, authentic style, and a recipe for success in this food-obsessed metropolis.

Kaiseki Teppan Iroha

Address: Azabu Toriizaka First 4F, 1-5-6 Azabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo

Tel: 03-6721-0681

Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Dinner 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Closed: No fixed holiday

Access: One-minute walk from Exit 7 at Azabu-juban Station

Featured Menu: 8-Course Dinner; ¥15,000

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This seems to be a nice restaurant for an enjoyable dinner. My next trip to Tokyo, I shall do so.

One may find it interesting, that it was the American G I, that introduced teppanyaki steak to Japan, the art of grilling steak on a flat grill.

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