Yesterday i had a delightful meal at Kabuki in Helsinki. It’s probably the best Japanese restaurant in Helsinki (or so i’m told). I don’t have anything to compare to, but i did like the food.
Let me describe the place. It’s a pretty inconspicuous-looking place at the corner of Lapinlahdenkatu and Työmiehenkatu. Walking in, you’re greeted by someone from the staff, who asks you to remove your shoes, as the restaurant is shoe-free except for the vestibule. There are eight tables, two of which are .. i guess Japanese-styled, where you sit on the “floor”. That area is actually raised from the floor, but anyway. The restaurant opens at 17:00, and we had one of the low floor-seat tables booked. The place was booked for the entire evening, and people kept walking in asking for tables without reservations. I’m not sure how much in advance you have to do your reservation, but it’s not a place you just walk in to. And this was on a Tuesday!
Sitting down was not an easy task for some of our entourage, but we all eventually found our places. I’m a small chap, so i found it rather comfortable to sit cross-legged at that low table. They had, as i mentioned, 6 regular tables, but we wanted the Japanese experience, whatever that may mean.
We ordered assorted drinks first, including some “Japanese” beer, called Asahi. Which was actually made in the Czech republic, which was printed with the smallest possible font at the bottom of the label. But none the less.
The menu can be confusing at first, because you kind of have to flip back and forward if you don’t read Japanese. On the first two pages, you have the kanji (?) and the english versions of the dishes, but then when you get to the other dishes, which are combinations of different things, you just get the japanese name of the dish, but with a number, that corresponds to the first two pages. Confused? Good. Anyway, we managed to get some appetizers ordered, including Ebi Furai (deep fried scampi, flounder, and octopus), Yakitori (chicken skewers), and some dish with fresh tuna that i missed the name of, possibly the Sashimi Moriawase.
The main courses were ordered next, along with a beaker of warm Okunomatsu Junmai Ginjo sake. This was our waitresses recomendation, out of the three standard sake varieties. It was a warm, very sweet liquid, which wasn’t overwhelmingly strong, but not something i’d drink on it’s own. With the food it was alright. They had an 81 euro premium sake, but we decided not to order that, even though we were on the company dime.
I had the Sukiyaki, which was one of the two “table-made” dishes (the other being Yakiniku). Basically, they bring out a cast-iron pan, and turn on a gas-stove which is at the center of your table. When the pan has heated, the waitress brings out a tray of different items. She started out by taking a small dollop of fat, to see that the pan was properly heated. After that, she started piling on the different components: very thin slices of beef, leeks, chinese cabbage, bamboo, shitake mushrooms and noodles, adding the Sukiyaki sauce as she went. The sauce consists simply of sake (or mirin, which is not as alcoholic?), sugar and soy-sauce. With everything simmering away in front of us, she brings a cup with a raw egg inside, which she informs me, is for dipping. She tells us to wait a few minutes, and then enjoy. Totally awesome!
The beef was absolutely succulent. Marbled to perfection, and cut so thin you almost couldn’t see the slices (Seinfeld reference, never mind). The sauce made everything soft and sweet, and you then started picking up pieces with your chopsticks, dipping them in the raw egg, and then eating it. An absolutely delightful dish for 18 euros.
Dessert consisted of green-tea ice cream, which was rather odd-tasting, but not altogether bad. Two from our group had red-bean ice cream, which was equally odd, but not repulsive either.
All in all a great place to eat, if you remember to book in advance, with fair prices and good service. The only thing that was kind of weird was the decor, which consisted of hockey-jerseys, clubs and skateboards filled with signatures. How does this fit in with the theme, i have no idea. But it’s not stifling or bothering, so i guess.. rock on.
Check out their website at http://www.kabuki.fi/