What Happens When Three Japanese Chefs Are Let Loose in a Classic British Restaurant

When Atsushi Tanaka, Hideki Nishi, and Ryuji Teshima flew in from their respective Parisian eateries to cook at London’s The Clove Club, it led to an evening of globally inspired food. And meringue cigars.

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25 October 2016, 12:05pm

Peering into the The Clove Club kitchen, it's easy to make out tonight's special guests. Chefs Atsushi Tanaka, Hideki Nishi, and Ryuji Teshima have flown in from their respective Parisian establishments to cook at the Michelin-starred Shoreditch restaurant for one night only, and are busy prepping for a globally inspired dinner.

The French-Japanese chefs were invited by food blogging "king" Steve Plotnicki, founder of the Opinionated About Dining online restaurant guide. Working with The Clove Club chef/owner Isaac McHale, they are preparing two courses each as part of an eight course tasting menu.

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Chefs Atsushi Tanaka, Hideki Nishi, and Ryuji Teshima work on the menu for their dinner at The Clove Club. All photos courtesy Opinionated About Dining/Margaret Lam.

"I want to capture where the 'destination dining' community is headed," says Plotnicki of his online guide. And, naturally, all three of the chefs' establishments featured on his list of Europe's 100 Best Restaurants. "They're the highest on that list from a newer generation. They've cleaned up classic French cuisine so it's not about heavy sauces, but more minimalist—a bit more Japanese. It's amazing how dedicated they are."

For McHale, having Tanaka, Nishi, and Teshima in his kitchen was a way to learn more about one of his favourite cuisines. The Scotland-born chef has been a fan of Japanese food since reading Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art aged 14.

Tonight's feast begins with four pre-starters. Tanaka's leek and brown butter dish contrasts well with McHale's autumnal haggis bun. Nishi serves a graceful sliver of duck with polenta crisp. But it's Teshima's tiny Ozaki beef, haddock, and salmon egg dish that pushes my appetite into overdrive.

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The Clove Club chef/owner Isaac McHale.

"The Japanese philosophy of craftsmanship is an eternal striving for progress," explains Teshima after service. "It's every day's work to try to do better."

Having trained as a chef and sommelier in Tokyo, Teshima travelled to Reims to work at two Michelin star restaurant Les Cots, before coming to Paris and honing his craft at fine dining spots like Passage 53. He also found time to complete stages at Belgium's famed In de Wulf and Melisse in Los Angeles.

Illustrious cooking CV aside, what's most impressive about Teshima is the fact that he gave up his Saturdays to master the preparation of meat with famed Paris butcher Hugo Desnoyer.

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"I didn't want to be that stereotypical Japanese chef who's only really good with fish," Teshima says.

And his second dish, "Beef of the World," is the ideal vehicle for those butchery skills. Composed of four rectangles of rare cow plated in a circle, Teshima instructs his diners to eat each one anticlockwise.

I begin with the "youngest" 30 day-aged Ozaki Wagyu and finish with the 130 day-aged Galician Rubia Gallega. In between is beef from Cornwall and Normandy. As I clear my plate, I wonder if it's possible to get high purely from steak.

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Ryuji Teshima's "Beef of the World" dish.

Tanaka's dishes are similarly ecstasy-inducing. Having arrived in Paris aged 17, he began training under Pierre Gagnaire, who was to later refer to his protégé as a "Picasso of the kitchen." Tanaka then travelled to Spain to work at the modernist Quique Dacosta restaurant.

"It was such a different style of cooking compared to what I had witnessed in France and Japan that I realised that I should go everywhere," Tanaka recalls. "So, over the next eight years, I went to cook in the USA, Belgium, Copenhagen, and Sweden."

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Atsushi Tanaka's "Camoflage" dish with juniper and Arctic char.

This entailed three years at Pastorale in Belgium, as well as stages at Copenhagen's Geranium.

Tonight, Tanaka serves "Camouflage," a signature dish at his Restaurant A.T in Paris. Shards of juniper and Arctic char are sprinkled with cheese granita at the table, before being coated in a parsley sauce. He tells me the picture-perfect plate of contrasting textures and temperatures was inspired by Swedish ceramicist Ann-Sofie Gelfius.

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Preparing dishes four the eight course dinner in The Clove Club kitchen.

"After I saw it, I was very inspired to make something eclectic. [Her artwork] looked like camouflage—khaki green," Tanaka shares. "So, I choose these products, and after many, many attempts, I finally created Camouflage."

Perseverance is also part of the cooking process for Nishi—that and using seasonal ingredients.

"I try to use the maximum of what I know of Japanese culinary technique to express French cuisine while using the best of this season's produce in a simple way," he explains.

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Nishi's plate of guinea fowl grilled over white charcoal neatly highlights that Japanese technique. Next comes a Clove Club classic: Orkney scallop with a squid ink-tinged sauce and tart clementine jelly. It's topped with toasted hazelnuts and mushrooms. The simplicity of the dish reflects Tanaka's approach to choosing ingredients.

"I don't like putting many different ingredients in the same dish," he explains. "Just three, for example."

But when it comes to tonight's dessert, less, thankfully, isn't more. A white chocolate shell is filled with Japanese whiskey-laced cream and served with meringue cigars. If this is where the "destination dining" community is headed, I'm happy to follow.