With a round, window-like facade, Tokyo’s retro-styled Salmon & Trout is in fact a restaurant. The fancy bicycles parked out front presumably belong to the staff, and the vintage bike frames one sees when peeking inside are there for decoration. Owner Shion Kakizaki says he first got into bicycles around kindergarten when he saw a movie called “BMX Adventure.” He now owns dozens of vintage bicycles. When Kakizaki decided to open a restaurant, he invited the innovative chef Kan Morieda to join him. This is a restaurant, after all, not a bicycle shop.
“A lot of people in Japan are totally absorbed in a single hobby,” says Kakizaki. “It’s considered admirable to get obsessive about your niche interest. And that’s true for bikes too. But in other countries a hobby is just one aspect of your social lifestyle. If people are eating fast food and wearing fast fashion, and just keeping up on whatever else is trending, that’s not cool at all. So I made a place in Japan for people who are into bicycles, but equally discerning about other things, like art and music and, of course, food and drinks.”
And yes, technically, you can also purchase the bike frames here. But that’s not really what the restaurant is about. Nearby, Kakizaki and a mechanic friend have set up a workshop called SO!!! that restores the bicycles in Kakizaki’s collection, the kind of collection a bike fanatic would lust after. And when they have time, they also do customizing and get vintage bikes in running condition for customers who hear about them through the grapevine.
The courses chef Morieda comes up with have only 10 items and change daily. Over the span of a month, the ingredients gradually shift, the sauces too. When I visited, the “prawns and lychee” left quite an impression. Precisely as billed, it’s just “prawns and lychee” but the taste is quite a surprise. Definitely try it out if you get the chance.
“Within the framework of a course menu, I want you to find things that are new and interesting,” says Morieda. “It might seem quite casual, but the approach behind it is making food in a contemporary and academic sort of approach. Like, I avoid salts, oils and the common ingredients derived from animal products, and I use home-style fermented dishes in new ways.”
Morieda travels the world to search for new ingredients, but more than that, one senses, to take in new information and experience. It is an organic way to broaden his perspective. “I think of Tokyo not just as a part of Japan, but of Asia’s monsoon region. So, I use the acidity of the citrus fruits there, and the fish sauces and occasionally flavors that come from insects. I often make use of the different food cultures of Asia. I’ve gone gathering mushrooms with local chefs in the forests of Thailand. And when they come visit, I take them gathering vegetables in the mountains of Japan. That’s how you trade knowledge and take in information.”
These interactions, it seems, also affect Salmon & Trout’s sourcing of ingredients. The black bass they often use, for instance, comes from Lake Biwa. “The Japanese have consumed so much tuna and eel that those are now endangered species. Other countries already have restrictions in place that are showing results, but the fishing and consumption in Japan are relentless. It’s still very much a grassroots movement, but we want to do at least something to compensate for that, reducing the push to exploit certain natural resources a little by intentionally not using ingredients pegged to a market price.”
One special touch is Salmon & Trout’s pairing of each course item with different sorts of alcoholic drinks. Owner Kakizaki is the restaurant’s sommelier as well as a food waiter. He loves wine to the point where he’s traveled to Sicily to study winemaking in the field, and is said to have made saké from his own rice plants—though home brewing is illegal in Japan. He makes full use of his abundant knowledge in choosing the drinks.
“Our core philosophy about pairing dishes with drinks hasn’t changed since we opened,” Kakizaki says, “but I think our productivity has increased dramatically. Our approach to pairing is one of scientific understanding, like for a given dish, these ingredients create this kind of scent, and that will stimulate a part of the human brain and change how the senses perceive it in an interesting way. That’s how we started out.”
It’s not that Kakizaki and Morieda feel compelled to create a totally new market or culture. It’s more their confidence as individuals making the effort to do things their own way. While certainly somewhat different, their vision isn’t intentionally weird but fittingly sociable. It will be nice if more places like Salmon & Trout open in the future. They make Japan more compelling.