Maru: Affordable kaiseki in central Tokyo
Kaiseki dining is notoriously difficult to access as a gaijin in Japan — you need an introduction and even if you have the luck to get a reservation, it’s all clouded in formal Japanese, so it’s not very accessible to your average gaijin.
This is where Rakushokushu Maru comes in: it offers a wonderful alternative for the expat community in Tokyo — modern kaiseki cuisine with an English menu and English-speaking staff. Lest you think it will be swarmed with gaijins, I didn’t get that impression at all when I went. It seemed like there was a 50-50 balance of locals and foreigners.
Maru has a discreet entrance and once inside, you will be ensconced in a cosy restaurant with woody interior and hushed conversation. Apparently, you can order a full course before your reservation or go ala carte. Ours was a last minute decision so we went ala carte and I was pleased with our selection.
We kicked things off wit ha bubbly, cloudy sake, which was gorgeous in its smooth, slightly sweet, slightly tart palate. Be warned, it goes down too easily and you could get quite tipsy from this drink.
Let’s get into the food. I’ve had a couple of kaiseki spreads in ryokans and what we had at Maru matches up in terms of quality. Most of the dishes were simple creations where the extremely fresh meat and produce shone through their herbs and condiments.
This croquette dish was one of the few modern touches in the menu. It wasn’t too heavy because the portions were small and the crust was surprisingly light.
This was probably my least favourite of all the dishes, but only because I wasn’t fond of the barely seared pork slices. The watercress and sauce, on the other hand, were fresh and savoury.
You have to order the rice half an hour in advance and you won’t regret it. It comes in a black cauldron-like pot and what you get is a tasty, moist rice which you eat with pickles and a dried sardine paste (pictured below), which is not for those who dislike pungent fishy aromas.
The most complicated dish during the evening was very kaiseki in nature — a deep-fried minced root vegetable ball that floated in a thick, salty broth with scallions. It was hearty despite its tiny thimble size.
Meat-lovers will swoon over this unadorned smoky platter of roast pork. The secret probably lies in the excellent cut from the freshest of pork and a very subtle marinade on its skin.
Even the bill was done in the spirit of kaiseki. There is usually no direct exchange of money for authentic kaiseki dinners and customers pay their bill via bank transfers a few days or even weeks after their meal. Maru placed the bill simply as a number scribbled on a piece of paper in a cloth envelope, so we put our cash in there, and that was it. We paid a little over the amount required but didn’t stay for the change, but I wonder if we’d waited, would there have been a receipt? By the way, the bill was split between four people, so it was about 8,000JPY per head. Not bad at all for such a classy spread.
Address: Aoyama KT Building B1F, 5-50-8 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku
Opening hours: Lunch: 1130 – 1400 (Mon – Fri); dinner 1800 – 0100 (Fri 1800 – 0200; Sun 1800 – midnight)
Nearest station: Omotesando (B2 exit)