Graham Reid | | 2 min read
I have lived through my first (and possibly last) Fugu experience. I managed to book two months in advance at Usukifugu Yamadaya, a famous three Michelin stars Fugu restaurant close to Rappongi in Tokyo.
As is so often the case in Japan with expensive restaurants, it was very difficult to find (and I had a Japanese guide!). Up a residential driveway, out the back, round the corner and down some stairs….
Fugu – or Puffer Fish – is extremely poisonous if not prepared properly. Chefs must undergo an eight year apprenticeship before applying for a license to practice their craft on the general public. Puffer Fish contains tetrodotoxin, a poison that causes its victims to become paralysed while still being fully conscious – death by asphyxiation follows.
It accounts for five or six deaths each year in Japan.
At this point you're probably wondering why I bothered - I guess eating Fugu is a bit like jumping out of a plane and hoping the parachute will open. It's a strange thrill and full of the unexpected, and possibly fatal consequences should something go awry.
I opted for the tasting menu (which is eye-wateringly expensive), courses using every piece of the fish – excluding the extremely toxic liver and ovaries -- each matched with a rich sweetish sake. And this is how The Dish Of Possible Death came . . .
Pan fried in a light soy and ponzu broth with a side order of abalone and lightly char grilled vegetables; as sashimi with a ponzu, lime, pepper and shallot dipping sauce, garnished and with the skin chopped and piled in the middle of the sashimi (rubbery but kind of nice); and basted in light soy, grilled and served with a sweet baby shallot.
Then there was deep fried Fugu in a light golden batter (eaten with your fingers), in a Miso broth with shitake, tofu and a rice cake, and then in a rice porridge with shallots and to-die-for pickled vegetables on the side.
Finally there as pumpkin mousse with a bean curd top and ginger ice – which was up there with a licorice parfait I once had, sweet but not sweet.
Each course was presented beautifully but there was a distinct lack of theatre from the chef.
The ambience of the restaurant was quiet and discreet, although oddly enough I read a writer for Bloomberg magazine said it was suitable place to take a date. As a first-date place your companion might find your choice . . . interesting?
You could be lucky to get a second.
Having never eaten Fugu before there is no comparison I can make. The dishes were interesting, tasty but no better than a piece of freshly caught Hapuka, the flavor and texture was almost identical.
The taste stayed with me overnight (in a nice way) making it through two bouts of teeth cleaning and my mouth seemed slightly numb for a few hours – a sensation I'm sure I have experienced in another life.
I'm often asked if I was to die tomorrow what would my last meal be.
Having lived through my Fugu experience I can say it certainly wouldn’t be Fugu.
Mark Rose is a longtime restaurateur in New Zealand who has advised many restaurants on menus and wines, has managed luxury hotels in New Zealand and abroad, and is currently manager at The Rees Luxury Hotel and Apartments in Queenstown, New Zealand (see here) which Elsewhere unequivocally recommends.
An exceptional venison recipe by The Rees' award-winning chef Ben Batterby is at Recipes from Elsewhere here.
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