Akinori Matsuki, our Hakone ryokan executive chef, had designed an eight-course evening menu that fitted exactly, from top to bottom, on an A4 sheet. I hear you thinking. Eight bite-size Japanese snacks, is that all?
I heard a gentle knock. Not really sure where the sound came from I stumbled to the front door. An immaculately dressed lady softly whispered “Kon’nichiwa”, and entered our tatami area. Single-handedly she rearranged our hakone area into an elegant Japanese dining room. We looked at our dinner menu and studied it very carefully. I have no clue why because it was a set menu. Maybe it was the fresh mountain air that invigorated me to read it. There was no choice of what was being served but I was trying to make sense of all the exotic ingredients and how it would all taste like. Patiently she explained the extensive dinner menu, poured our smoked tea but then all of a sudden vanished. In hindsight, our waitress must have been a top secret ninja because there was not a single sound when she moved around. Or maybe it were the copious amounts of sake and beer that had triggered my imagination.
Wrapped up in my yukata I waited. And waited. Then out of the blue the waitress reappeared with our first course of the night. A fresh plate of Sakihasun with seven exquisite side dishes followed by an amazing Wanmori, a clear bonito soup, steamed pacific cod and served along with grilled Shirako. Still hungry, I continued with Tukuri and Kimono. Then suddenly I was full. Eating more would be unpleasant but I was only half way. Before this epic meal I was joking about the judo-like tatami floor and yukata (kimono) we were wearing but when you are full and need to eat more the Japanese yukata is a blessing. I loosened my yukata belt slightly and after a mini-break I was ready to go again. More Kumizakana, Sunomono and Shokuji followed. To top it all off I finished the night with Mizugashi, a light mousse with fresh strawberry mixed with a luscious amount of mascarpone.
My food coma had kicked in and decided to recover in one of the Hake’s natural hot springs. I started to feel more human again. Before going to bed I felt I needed to rehydrate. At a snail’s pace I made my way to the hotel bar with the finest collection of local whiskeys and beers. Exhausted I muttered my beer order and quietly I waited until I noticed a dark shadow had appeared on the bar table. In front of me was a large but freshly poured Yebisu. And the invisible ninja waitress standing over it.