Taste of Japan

Authentic Kaiseki course cuisine restaurant “Roketsu” has opened in London, brought by chef of Kyoto cuisine, Mr. Daisuke Hayashi

Mr. Daisuke Hayashi is a leading individual in the world of Japanese cuisine, engaged as Japanese Cuisine Goodwill Ambassador from 2019, and who has overseen the serving of Japanese cuisine to heads of state, and flight meals in first and business classes. At the end of last year, looking for his chance, Mr. Hayashi came to London for an interview at the Kaiseki restaurant “Roketsu” that he would become involved in. Before the restaurant opens, scenes of preparation are streamed on the restaurant’s Instagram. There is deep care and attention paid not just to the cuisine, but also to the details of the restaurant interior, and the restaurant is causing a stir, drawing interest from many gastronomists.

The beautiful, single-plane counter was cut from a hinoki cypress that grew in Japan, said to be as much as 300-400 years old.

It is no exaggeration to say that “Roketsu” is the first authentic Kaiseki restaurant in London. Owner-chef, Mr. Daisuke Hayashi, when he was 18, apprenticed to Yoshihiro Murata, third generation of long-established restaurant in Kyoto, “Kikunoi”, and later became active as deputy head chef at “Kikunoi” Akasaka branch. In 2008, after becoming independent, he achieved a great breakthrough employed as person in charge of the Japanese Cuisine at the G8 Hokkaido Toyako Summit. That would prove a big stepping stone in Mr. Hayashi’s advancing towards London. Among the VIPs at the summit who enjoyed, and were impressed by, the Japanese cuisine, was the British Prime Minister at the time, Gordon Brown and his wife. “He recommended me to Alan Yau who produces restaurants in London”, Mr. Hayashi explains.

In the London of the noughties, Mr. Yau was an almighty presence. With the fine dining Chinese restaurant “Hakkasan” as opener, all the restaurants he has been involved in have been big hits. They became restaurants always full booked, with a popularity that did not know where to stop. Yet it was Mr. Yau who came all the way to Japan on his own accord to consult directly with Mr. Hayashi over whether he would take the helm in the kitchen of a Japanese restaurant he was about to start. It was then that Mr. Hayashi went to consult Mr. Murata of “Kikunoi”, whom he continues to respect and adore, and still calls “Taisho” (chief). He was told by his Taisho, “It is now the era to spread Japanese cuisine across the world. So you should cut your ties and go overseas”. These words gave him a push start, and in 2009, he moved his base to London, taking post as chef at “SAKE NO HANA”, a restaurant Mr. Yau was involved in.

“SAKE NO HANA” was, at the time, one of the few high-end Japanese restaurants in London. However, its dishes were totally different from what Mr. Hayashi had previously worked on, he says. “It was not pure Japanese cuisine, but what you might call fusion cuisine. Yet since that was accepted as Japanese cuisine, the reality was that even if I served the real thing, they would not recognize it”. It was day after day of trial and error, trying to find a balance between the cuisine sought within that environment, and the Japanese cuisine that he himself pursued.

However, in the last 10 years or so, he says that the people of London’s reception of Japanese cuisine has progressed dramatically. In 2019, he himself was appointed Japanese Cuisine Goodwill Ambassador, and took on more of the role of responsibility for Japanese cuisine. “Today, people are delighted by it, even if I serve exactly what I would in Japan. There are quite a few British people who have traveled in Japan and know of the splendor of Kaiseki course cuisine. There is also the element nowadays of getting on-the-spot information from around the world on the internet”. It was through navigating the times and reaching the now that you could say the opportunity was ripe to open the authentic Kaiseki restaurant “Roketsu”. Mr. Hayashi himself talks of the “significance” of the now in its opening.

The restaurant’s concept is “Kyoto cuisine”. The spirit of “Kikunoi”, where Mr. Hayashi’s own routes lie, is not just found in the cuisine, but is carried through into the space, fittings and even the crockery. In recent years, leaving the chef to decide on the day’s menu has become a kind of trend in high-end Japanese restaurants in London, and the word “OMAKASE” is now understood by London foodies without needing an explanation. However, Mr. Hayashi is particular about it, saying, “There is an order and convention to serving Japanese cuisine and Kaiseki course cuisine. The food should be served keeping strictly to those rules.”
Also, the utensils - crockery, lacquer bowls to chopsticks - used at “Roketsu” to present the food, are all made in Japan. The interior of the restaurant is designed with a teahouse-like structure, commissioning globally renowned Nakamura Sotoji Komuten and calling on craftspeople from Japan to carry out the work. The space was created using large amounts of Japan-produced timber preserved in Kyoto for over 100 years. As you take a step inside, you fall into a sense of warping to Japan. Such attention to detail was unprecedented in London restaurants, it was a shock to hear. “It’s an obvious requirement”, says Mr. Hayashi quietly. “To convey proper things in a proper way, you must bring in the real things”. He pays special attention to everything, like the atmosphere created by the objects arranged there, and the sensation when touching a material. However, it is not overpowering in any way. It is steeped in a dignified sense of beauty.

The rabbit used as the mark of “Roketsu” appears in the Zen words of “Wang Quan” of Chinese philosopher, Zhuangzi.

“Cuisine is about ‘handling the natural way of things’ (cooking)”, says Mr. Hayashi, quoting the expression used by Rosanjin Kitaōji. Rosanjin theorizes that “One must not try too hard to do what is unnatural by overdoing ‘cooking’”. As if taking on those words, he says, “Because this is not Japan, there will obviously be differences in the raw ingredients and sense of season. Because there are no Japanese ingredients and you cannot sense the Japanese seasons, does not mean you cannot create Japanese cuisine”.
He is strictly selective about place of production and producer, sourcing the best examples of seafood varieties and vegetables from different locations in the UK. The konbu seaweed, for taking the stock that is the base of Japanese cuisine, rice , soy sauce, etc., must be produced in Japan at all costs, he says, and orders them in. On the citrus fruits, too, such as Yuzu and Citrus sudachi, which create an aroma unique to Japan, he says he will not accept anything other than those produced in Japan. Selecting the best of UK-produced and Japan-produced ingredients, he weaves them together to create his cuisine.
It has only just opened, yet he says that the majority of visitors to “Roketsu” at present are not Japanese people. “Unlike Western cuisine, we don’t use a single drop of oil, which is completely unsuited to the tastes of the people here, yet we find they are very satisfied”. Authentic fittings and food with attention to detail to this extent can only transcend borders and delight.

Mr. Hayashi considers the future of Japanese cuisine and how food will be from hereon.

Even the lounge space is equipped with Japanese style fittings, such as a folding screen and bonsai tree.

Also, Mr. Hayashi says that his mission, to “Convey widely the splendor of Japanese cuisine”, is always in his heart. He also carries out activities in “food education” to convey that taste widely to the UK’s young generation, like aiming to have Japanese cuisine included in UK school lunches, and creating places where the young generation can enjoy Japanese cuisine. The recognition and understanding of Japanese cuisine has changed greatly in London - and the whole UK - over the last 10 years. It will be exciting to see how, in a further 10 years, Japanese food will be received not just in the UK, but around the world.

Exterior of the restaurant with a chic, black facade and focal point of a rabbit mark.

Text: Miyuki Sakamoto; Photography: Shuji Tomioka

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