Hal Yamashita: Japanese fusion restaurant in Akasaka, Tokyo
Reviewed by Lukas Kratochvil
"Japanese fusion" is a tired, overused term often applied to restaurants that will frequently disappoint while kicking your wallet where it hurts. Hal Yamashita is a delightful exception to the rule, celebrating fusion cuisine at the highest level. Your wallet will leave the scene of the crime bruised but not beaten, and you will feel that it was worth the expense.
I freely admit that I am prejudiced where restaurants in the Tokyo Midtown complex are concerned in a nutshell, overpriced and underwhelming (Union Square, anyone?). It was therefore with some trepidation that I accepted an invitation for lunch at Hal Yamashita, a modern, brightly lit restaurant with a large outdoor terrace and an inviting counter displaying fresh vegetables and meat behind which the chefs ply their trade.
In the spirit of fusion, we were greeted by a friendly Swedish waiter and wasted no time ordering the five course lunch menu for 5,800 Yen. It was an experience I look forward to repeating.
Chef Hal Yamashita is a creative perfectionist, carefully selecting only the best of organic ingredients from his native Kobe and surrounding areas to showcase what he calls "the Hal Yamashita style", which relies heavily on Kobe beef, sea urchin and citrusy flavours. The phenomenal quality of the ingredients shone through each and every dish.
We started off with an appealing-looking starter of Rolled Kobe Beef filled with Uni (sea urchin) topped with Smoked Caviar. This was a limited success. The uni was phenomenal, combining a briny sea flavour with deep, malty and caramel-like notes. Its beautifully intense flavor was however the undoing of the dish. It overpowered the subtle flavours of the raw Kobe beef and the caviar. It was served in a refreshing and well-rounded yuzu-based juice that did not dominate.
Next up was Soup of Shiitake Mushrooms and Rice. This was an enigma: thick and creamy with a subtle fragrance of grilled bacon, yet according to the waiter free of either cream or bacon. Instead, the pureed rice mimicked the much more fattening dairy product. The powerful shiitake mushroom flavor was complemented by the subtle fragrance of the non-existent grilled bacon. I remain mystified at the origins of the tantalizing charred pork notes.
Sautd Sea Bream with Yuzu and Soy Sauce was a festival of flavours and balance. Salmon roe, resting atop some crisp, juicy cabbage, combined with fresh, citrusy juice, salty soy sauce, the characteristically sharp flavor of scallion and butter-sauted, woodsy shimeiji mushrooms. Add to that the succulent sea bream and disappear on Cloud 9 in culinary heaven.
The main course of grilled Kobe beef and scallop with uni sauce was another revelation. The medium-rare, appealingly marbelled Kobe sirloin was accompanied by a buttery sea urchin sauce with a citrusy zing that had none of the intensity of raw uni - an original and delicious alternative to black truffle sauce. The richness of the steak and the sauce was counter balanced by crunchy and slightly smoked barbecued carrot and broccoli. The grilled scallop was plump and sweet, if slightly overdone. A dollop of salty, zingy yuzu pepper paste on a morsel of the meat quickly cut through the immense richness of the dish.
As is sometimes the case with Japanese multi-course meals, instead of dessert, we were served Japanese curry with Kobe beef. The curry was delicious as far as Japanese curry goes, with a sweet and fruity, tangy dark sauce with a deep vegetable flavor and a taste of mango chutney. The Kobe beef was overpowered by the sauce and completely wasted on the dish; any decent quality beef would have sufficed.
As this was a lunchtime meal, I limited myself to soft drinks. However, if you are lucky enough to visit in the evening, you will be treated to an impressive, mainly Australian wine list at relatively sensible prices. Lunch menus are 2,300 yen to 5,800 Yen, while the opulent 6 to12-course dinner menus will set you back 8,800, 12,800 or 15,800 Yen. Physical movement was difficult and unwelcome even after my five course lunch, but I am willing to brave the 12 course dinner in the near future.
Name Hal Yamashita
Address 東京都港区赤坂9丁目7-4 D-0119 (東京ミッドタウン)
3F Galleria Tokyo Midtown, 9-7-1 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Subway Roppongi (Oedo Line & Hibiya Line) 2 mins
Nogizaka (Chiyoda Line) 5 mins
Akasaka (Chiyoda Line) 10 mins
Opening times Tue- Sun 11 a.m. 3 p.m.; 5:30 p.m. midnight (closed Mon; closed Tue if Mon is a public holiday)
Credit cards? Yes
Foreigner friendly? Yes English menu; some staff speak English
Non-smoking section? Yes inside (terrace smoking)