Shinobu Namae at Single Thread

Dinner – Sunday, August 13, 2017

Shinobu Namae’s L’Effervescence was arguably my favourite meal of our trip to Japan last November. So, when Single Thread announced a collaboration with him and filmmaker Eric Wolfinger, centered around dashi, we were all in. Namae and Kyle Connaughton met at Michel Bras in Toya many years ago, and then later also worked together at the Fat Duck, so this was a familiar partnership for them.

The event began with a screening of the short film “Dashi Journey” at SHED, wherein Wolfinger tails Namae as he travels to the northern and southern reaches of Japan, seeking to understand the origins of kombu and katsuobushi. This was followed by a dashi tasting, and then finally the main event – dinner at Single Thread.

Rooftop snacks
We were greeted with snacks on the rooftop: (1) bowls of tomatoes, in a dashi infused with basil and olive oil; (2) senbei filled with shio koji-cured Andante Dairy cheese and compressed pear; (3) chilled rectangles of sliced, compressed melon and shiso. The senbei, in particular, were phenomenal – the creamy cheese going so well with the crunch of sweet pear and the funkiness of koji.

“Mid-Summer in Sonoma County” – Part 1
Tonight’s spread seemed even more plentiful than usual. I was particularly taken by a number of dishes: (1) a panna cotta with Hokkaido uni; (2) a sea bream crudo with grapefruit; (3) a salad of carrots and apricots atop some chrysanthemum pesto; (4) a simple bowl of mulberries, presented unadorned so that we could savour their quality.

“Mid-Summer in Sonoma County” – Part 2
Warm dishes came quickly: (1) squash blossom tempura with scallop mousse; (2) steamed egg custard with smoked sabayon and caviar; (3) malted potato and black cod; (4) beets, umeboshi, finger lime. I always look forward to this exact part of the meal – the dishes fill me with such satisfaction.

Akabana kanpachi
Goma-dashi somen, salted cucumber, olive oil, myoga

Kanpachi was very lightly charred and dipped in dashi, then laid atop the chilled somen. The tang of the fish contrasted beautifully with the creamy sesame in the noodles. The myoga helped cleanse the palate of the oils from the other components. Fantastic.

Chawanmushi, grilled anago
Thickened clam dashi, nori, fresh wasabi

Tartine bread, dashi cultured butter
A collaboration between Eric Wolfinger and his former employer, Tartine Bakery – the bread was made with dashi instead of water, and served with cultured butter topped with roasted sesame. Delicious, but I found the dashi flavour in the bread extremely subtle, which is surprising given the hydration of Tartine’s breads.

Monterey Bay abalone
Dashi of its liver, fermented Gravenstein apple, cured konbu

Poached foie gras
Dashi of last year’s tomatoes, Tokyo turnips

Wild Japanese tilefish “Fukkura-san”
Vegetables from the farm, kumquat-koshi dashi

Possibly my favourite iteration of this donabe course – the fried scales of the tilefish created a lot of interesting textural contrasts with the other (soft) components. The dashi here was also punchier than the tea broth used in previous versions.

Miyazaki A5 wagyu
Hamaguri, garlic, summer squash, wild sansho oil

Koshihikari rice “Kamado-san”, miso soup, pickles
We ended with a donabe of rice, topped with corn and shaved black truffles. At this point in the meal, I was remarkably full (in retrospect, I realize I was suffering the beginnings of food poisoning from lunch) but the delicious rice gave me a second wind!

Green yuzu granite, Sonoma summer fruits

Walnut ice cream
Dried apricot compote, crême fraiche, puffed amaranth, kinako tuile

A favourite that seems to be a mainstay on the menu. This iteration featured walnut ice cream, which worked amazingly with the apricot compote and amaranth. This dessert has everything in spades – likely to be within my top ten of the year.

Mugwort and white chocolate eggs
Tomatoes and strawberries, lemon verbena and alpine strawberry

Another top-notch meal in the books. This was a natural collaboration – nothing felt out of place, both chefs joining forces to produce a truly synergistic menu. I’m really looking forward to the restaurant hosting more of these dinners, and also hopefully to return to Tokyo for another meal from Namae’s kitchen.

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