HomeWhat are Japanese Food and Ingredient Supporter Store?Voices of Supporter Stores OverseasRoketsu : Mainstream kaiseki restaurant in London Conveying the essence of Japan through food

Interview of Supporter Stores Roketsu

Mainstream kaiseki restaurant in London
Conveying the essence of Japan through food

London / U.K.

Leaving Japan to fulfill his mentor’s dream

Chef owner Hayashi trained under Yoshihiro Murata, the third-generation owner of the Kyoto Kikunoi ryotei restaurant, who devoted himself for the registration of washoku as a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage. Hayashi served as sous chef at the Kikunoi Akasaka restaurant when it newly opened. He was responsible for Japanese cuisine at the 2008 G8 Summit at Lake Toya in Hokkaido, where he was approached about working overseas. He consulted with Murata, and he said, “Japanese cuisine is going to go global. You go outside Japan.” To fulfill his mentor's dream, Hayashi decided to take on the challenge of working overseas with the mission of promoting Japanese food culture and provide education on it. He also supervised in-flight meals for JAL business class and first-class flights from Europe and the U.S. In 2020, he was appointed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan as the Japanese Cuisine Special Goodwill Ambassador.

Roketsu opened in central London in 2021. In order to convey authenticity of Japanese culture, Hayashi asked a company operated by the son of Sotoji Nakamura, a world-renowned designer of the Sukiya style architecture, to design the interior. Craftsmen from Japan came to London to construct the interior using Japanese cypress and various other woods that have been preserved for over a century in Kyoto. The “Kyo-ryori” signboard hanging at the entrance, which had been used at Kikunoi main restaurant, was given by Murata.

We serve authentic Japanese cuisine

Some customers visit the restaurant every month to enjoy the monthly kaiseki course menu. “Our customers are with various ethnic backgrounds, and some are from the U.S. Ninety percent of our customers have been to Japan and are familiar with Japanese cuisine, so they expect the same level of food as what is served in Japan. That is why we cannot cut corners, or rather, that approach is right. To be honest, at first, I was worried about whether the mainstream Kyoto cuisine would be accepted, but I found out that they expected the same level of cuisine as in Japan. Since many of the customers who come to our restaurant are of high-class, they have eaten quality cuisine and appreciate the value of authenticity. If I do this work, I want to work with top-notch people, and since I am doing this myself, I have to aim high. I do it with that kind of restraint as my policy,” says Hayashi. He does not cater to the tastes of local customers, but rather follows the method strictly and uses dishes imported from Japan in order to convey the authenticity of Japanese cuisine. It has been a rough way, but he has never given up on his mission to provide Japanese food culture in a proper way, and that is why he is where he is today.

Thinking about how I can do even if the ingredients are unavailable

He says cooking is science and he can cook wherever the ingredients are available. “It's not a matter of what is unavailable. It's a way of thinking. You must not say “I can’t”.” For example, if there is no soy sauce, what can we use instead? The mindset of thinking about what can be done with available ingredients has been cultivated since his training days.

A lot of dashi (stock) is used in kaiseki. Kombu (kelp) is imported from Japan, and dried bonito flakes are from Spain since they cannot be imported from Japan. As for vegetables, in this month (August, when the interview was conducted), myoga (Japanese ginger), kinome (buds of Japanese pepper tree), green yuzu citrus, mozuku seaweed, etc. were imported from Japan by air. He often uses vegetables from Europe. Although there are more varieties of fish in Japan, he procures fish locally because fish must be fresh and, in some cases, imported fish from Japan is farm-raised to comply with the HACCP certification.

Paring with sake

“Many of our customers know the difference between daiginjo and ginjo, and they seem to think it’s better to pair Japanese cuisine with sake. We also have whiskey and other beverages, but sake is by far the most popular,” Hayashi says. The restaurant has a sommelier on staff, who also pairs sake with food. There are about 60 brands of sake and 500 brands of wine listed on the alcoholic beverage menu. In the U.K., which has long been a major consumer of wine, wine is relatively common in Japanese restaurants, but many customers prefer sake at Roketsu.

Promoting the wonder of Japanese food through education on having good diet

In the U.K., more than one in four adults are obese, and obesity is considered as a social issue that should be addressed from childhood. In the past, Hayashi has provided workshops and lectures at public schools (private boarding schools) on having good diet as part of a project of the Japanese Embassy in the U.K. Besides operating a restaurant, Hayashi has a dream to introduce Japanese food to school lunch in the U.K. He is now making efforts step by step to establish his brand and develop cafeterias for students and children. ”I think what we eat is very important because our sense of taste is developed when we are children. Japanese food uses more ingredients than Western food, and it can be prepared without butter or cream. If you eliminate deep-fried foods, calories become even lower. In addition, because the flavors are based on umami, Japanese cuisine can give satisfaction without using salt or oil. There is no other cuisine that is as good for the body as Japanese cuisine,” he says. In addition, Japanese cuisine, which consists of soup and three dishes, is healthy and makes sense. With the goal of introducing Japanese food into school lunch in this country, he is working hard with the Embassy to promote Japanese cuisine, first targeting the upper-class people.

What I want to convey through kaiseki

Hayashi says his mission is to let customers taste the season and feel Japanese culture and customs through the seasonal elements in kaiseki cuisine. He says, "In addition to taste and visual elements, cultural and customary elements are also very important in Japanese cuisine, and kaiseki is necessary as a way to express these elements. I would say that a restaurant is like an amusement park, consisting not only of food, but of tableware, service, and the like. The whole. And Japanese food culture is often spiritual. The concept of eating is different from that of other countries. First of all, there is a big concept that food is a gift from the gods, and there is the idea of making the most of the ingredients without modifying them as much as possible. I explain this to those who are interested, including appreciation for food.” For example, in June, he served an appetizer of green plums purchased from Japan cooked with wine to so that customers can feel early summer, and in September, he served a dish using chrysanthemums for the Chrysanthemum Festival. In addition to charming the customers with the splendor of Kyoto cuisine and hospitality, he conveys the spirit of Japan through the spirit of kaiseki.

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