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Grilled hairtail with plum jelly and ginger

A dish of surprising flavours which bring each other to life

Josie Delap | November/December 2015

The back streets north of downtown Hiroshima are dark and unprepossessing. Nakashima, the city’s only three-Michelin-star restaurant, lurks unobtrusively on a corner, its exterior tiled white, two large shrubs on either side of the entrance. A screen hides the doorway and the name is barely visible; it makes little effort to announce its existence or to lure you in.

Inside, the mood warms. The chef, Tetsuo Nakashima, is casually friendly; his wife gently chivvies both diners and staff. Delicate calligraphy details three possible set menus, with hairtail – a firm, white fish more usually served as sashimi – presented grilled as part of the third and most expensive.  

It acts as a punch of heat among cleaner, cooler offerings. Chilli is sprinkled over the hairtail’s skin, a blistered mercury hiding the creamy flesh beneath. Leant against it is what looks like a flushed, pink-and-white bowling pin, but is in fact a pickled bud of myoga, the Japanese plant that combines gingery warmth with a breath of shallot. By its side, in a wrapping of mottled brown leaves, lies a square of plum jelly, sweet and sour, the world’s tangiest, tastiest wine gum. Instinct would tell you this is an odd accompaniment for salty, spicy fish. But instinct is wrong. The flavours bring each other to life.

You eat quietly, perched, if you are lucky, at the bar, watching the chefs working in peaceable near-silence. Once you’re finished, you hand back your shallow box, its twig of pink cherry blossom an echo of the ginger bud’s blush, to Mr Nakashima. The exchange complete, he nods. You nod. And wish you’d licked the jelly’s wrapping.
~ JOSIE DELAP

¥10,000 as part of set menu; +81 82 225 3977

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