Japanese Hospitality and Cuisine at Shinjyuku Kappo Nakajima
You may have tried the finest, most famous restaurants within Tokyo's numerous offerings. You may have also experienced the attentiveness of typical Japanese customer service. However, have you experienced the true, sincere hospitality of Japanese cuisine? This was my first Tokyo experience, at Shinjyuku Kappo Nakajima.
Right through the doors, I was welcomed by Mrs. Nakajima, who took my jacket and showed me to my seat. She and a young female chef explained every dish to me, ingredient by ingredient, method by method, in English. To help out when she struggles to find exact translations for some Japanese ingredients, Mrs. Nakajima keeps an English encyclopedia of foodstuffs to show her guests what they are eating. To be honest, there were a few English words that even I didn’t know as a native speaker. I truly admired her dedication and effort in making her guests feel comfortable.
Chef Nakajima was even more impressive. As I watched him arrange layers of sashimi on dishes at the counter, I could tell from his gaze that he has very high expectations for his work. One minute, I heard him teaching his apprentices, and the next, his laughter as he joked with his guests.
Throughout the course, I also began to notice that I was served not by a waiter or waitress, but by an actual team of chefs and apprentices. When they see a guest coming through the glass door, they will notify each other to get ready to serve. They were always subtly checking how my course was going and the whole team knew exactly which dish I was eating so that they could prepare the next one. The next dish was always served timely and at the right temperature. I have never before seen such great teamwork at a restaurant.
As with most Japanese traditional cuisine, the dishes within each course at Nakajima are omakase—If you have a special craving or allergies, simply speak with the chef and he will make arrangements for you. After conveniently booking my table through Pocket Concierge, I chose the special course for ¥15,000 with nine seafood dishes.
With my curiosity for cuisine, I initiated a brief chat with Mrs. Nakajima. She explained that chef Nakajima uses the traditional methods of Kansai Kappo that he learned from his father. What is unique is that he pairs those dishes with his own new ideas to keep guests intrigued. “Many of our regular guests are doctors working in the area. They come every week and it is always his challenge to create something new for them,” she said. One example was the king salmon saikyoyaki dish I had. The salmon was preserved in miso for four days before being grilled, giving it a strong, salty taste. To balance that, chef Nakajima served the salmon with a bouquet of summer vegetables, lightly grilled with very little seasoning.
I also really appreciated the thoughtfulness put into the flow of the course. An oily dish was followed by a chilled, tangy dish to refresh the taste in your mouth. One of my favorites was the conger pike fish, a type of eel, deep fried in a crushed okaki (Japanese rice cracker) batter. The crunchy texture and the aroma of rice were pleasing bite after bite. As this was a heavier part of the course, it was followed by a vinaigrette dish, with thinly shredded potatoes, seaweed, and herring roe. Just like this, I was amused by a variety of flavors, textures, aromas, and artistic presentations of food, from appetizers to sushi to steamed dishes to dessert.
Like the last song at the end of a concert, the sweet corn ice cream was a magnificent ending to the course. You may imagine it to have the strong taste of a typical corn potage, but it was much more sophisticated than that. The light taste of cream brought out the natural sweetness of the two little corn kernels on top of it. Sweet corn never tasted so sweet.
As much as I loved the food and the stylish, relaxing wooden interior, those are not the main reasons why I want to visit Nakajima again. Rather, it’s the hospitality that will have me going back. Two years after moving from the rural community of Nagasaki to metropolitan Tokyo, I had almost forgotten how nice it was to meet local Japanese people and be on the receiving end of omotenashi. Don’t misunderstand; Tokyo has also been very kind. I am just amazed by the comfortable, at-home feeling that came over me at Nakajima. After just a 90-minute dinner, I already felt a sense of attachment to the restaurant. That, I think, is what keeps its guests coming back each week.
Address: B1 Nichihara Building, 3-32-5 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
Tel: 03-3356-4534 (click here to book online in English)
Open: Daily, 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m. for lunch, 5:30–10 p.m. for dinner
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