Food & Drinks
Pairing sushi with cognacTuesday May 23 2023
Sushi, a staple rice dish of Japanese cuisine that is often accompanied by raw seafood, has, over the years, become a standard item among many a fine-dining restaurant's menu.
As the Kenyan appetite for foreign cuisines grows, hotels have pulled every trick in the book, including head-hunting top chefs to make their offerings stand out.
When we meet sushi master Kazu Onuki, he quickly summarises, "There are no authentic sushi restaurants in the region yet."
Authentic sushi, he says, is served one-on-one at the counter and is only available within a single chef's reach. He adds that it is for such exclusiveness that top sushi restaurants in Japan are usually booked up for a year or more.
Over the last few months, the 54-year-old has set up an authentic Japanese Omakase-style sushi restaurant at the Villa Rosa Kempinski.
We are at the hotel's new Sushi Mitsuki restaurant, where Onuki is the Executive Chef, to eat sushi the way it was meant to be eaten.
And since authentic sushi is an exclusive offering, what better drink to pair it with than the Sh500,000 price tag Remy Martin Louis XIII?
Chef Onaki walks a group of eight of us into the Japanese-themed space that holds only nine seats at the main counter and six in the private room promising a once-of-a-lifetime experience.
True to its billing, the dining experience at Mitsuki is personalised. Chefs interact with guests as they prepare what chef Onuki describes as an 8-course "omakase-inspired" tasting menu.
Omakase literally means 'I trust you.'
"What we're doing here is a little further than you choose for me. We have a restaurant designed to be inspired by all the omakase I've had over the years. So, with a tasting menu, we take you on a journey," says Onuki.
Sushi making is an art steeped in trust, with apprentice chefs learning how to prepare by watching masters for years. Moving from one level to the next depends on the level of trust.
Each piece of nigiri (hand-pressed sushi)is designed to be eaten in a single sublime bite that works in combination with the other to tell a larger story, and on this night, every bite is washed down by a sip of Louis XIII.
There is a ritual about Louis XIII, from opening the bottle to pouring the precious liquid from an iconic crystal decanter into specially designed Louis XIII crystal glasses to enjoying the premium cognac, and Mickael BonnamyRémy Cointreau brand ambassador is hand to explain every step.
The Monkfish liver complements and enhances Louis XIII's unique flavours. The same is the experience with Mackerel and grilled silver cod saikyo.
As we chat, chef Onuki expertly starts carving our next meal, a yellowtail belly, and Bonnamy pours another round of the fine cognac.
"Yellowtail is the king of sashimi in the Sea of Japan. It is characterised by its rich fat and strong sweet taste," says Onuki.
Sushi Mitsuki would only be an authentic Japanese restaurant with sake, the traditional wine made from rice. Chef Onuki surprised us with sake served in glasses and Japanese colour-changing Sakura cups.
By the way, putting your plate or getting down on the bottom level on the counter is frowned upon. Leave it at the top level and enjoy your sushi.
Another tip; it is okay to eat with chopsticks. Grab the sushi lengthwise with chopsticks and hold it sturdy so it does not fall apart.
Conversing with the chef is the best part of the dining experience at a sushi counter. The chef tells us where each food comes from, how it is prepared, and how to eat it.
For dessert, chef Onuki serves Yuzu Robert, which has a bright, tart unique citrus flavour; it makes an irresistibly tasty dessert that refreshes the palate and makes you feel less bloated.
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