Takumi: it means skilful and clever in Japanese. And it’s an apt name for this stylish restaurant, tucked away on the second floor of the vast Merchant Court Hotel.

First impressions are important, and Takumi’s doesn’t let diners down here. The restaurant seats a total of 90, but there are eight elegant tatami rooms – which should be booked in advance, and contain some beautiful vases, of all things – lending an intimacy even to the main dining area. Takumi opened in August, and as such it still has a very ‘new’ feel to it, with pale woods and simple but elegant furniture sitting spotless beneath the soft overhead lights.

The Japanese sushi chef works on a black granite bench in front of four luminous tanks containing fish and other sea creatures – they’re for display, our charming and friendly waiter told us – not your dinner. They certainly inspire thoughts of freshness.

It’s possible, if you haven’t eaten much Japanese food before, to be rather overwhelmed merely by the menu in a Japanese restaurant. That could happen at Takumi, as well, with its extensive lists of kaiseki, shojin ryori, yakimono, nabe mono, udon and so on – but not if one of the waiters gets to you first.

Ours doesn’t hesitate to recommend a selection of dishes with confidence, despite the restaurant’s tender age. We start with a selection of very fresh sashimi (local, Bt280++, or imported 1,480++) and wash it down with some fiery warm sake.

Next comes soup. I try the tai shiru shoga zitate, a clear ginger-flavoured red snapper soup (Bt90++), which comes with chunks of soft white leeks, very tender fillets of snapper, and a delicate, well-balanced flavour. My partner tries the miso shiru, a soy bean paste soup with seaweed and egg (Bt70++), which also rates a good report.

You’ll need to be adept at using chopsticks to move the larger pieces safely from your soup bowl to your mouth (otherwise you sip directly from the bowl): the black-slated wooden placemats look too gorgeous to even think about spilling anything on. You could always place one of the sleek, earth- toned plates beneath your bowl if you’re nervous. (Be warned: my partner’s concluding words to the evening were “You’re not very good with chopsticks, are you?”)

Takumi prides itself on creating cuisine with roots in Kyoto, the city that served as Japan’s imperial capital for more than a thousand years. Kyo-ryori, or Kyoto cuisine, evolved slowly, and was influenced by its landlocked location, as well the customs of the royal court its townspeople served.

Kyoto was also the birthplace of shojin ryori, the delicate vegetarian cuisine of Zen temples, and kaiseki, a style of cooking originating from dishes served at ancient banquets.

So it’s only appropriate that our waiter has selected three types of shojin ryori for us to try: goma dofu, a steamed sesame paste tofu with wasabi sauce (Bt80++), taro imo age yaki, taro which has been boiled, grilled and then deep-fried (Bt80++) and hirosu ankake, deep fried bean curd with vegetables and sesame paste (Bt180++). The goma dofu is quite gluggy for western palates – while it’s more an acquired taste, the taro is an immediate winner. Putting the humble tuber through these various cooking processes turns it into something exquisite and even remarkable. The hirosu ankake, too, is outstanding, with a spurt of flavourful juice bursting forth from each piece of curd as it’s bitten into.

Various other appetizers, again selected by our waiter, arrive. Kamo rosu mustard, which turns out to be very tender roasted duck, steamed in soy sauce with just a delicate dab of yellow mustard on the side (Bt100++), is a favourite, while the hiyashi wakame, boiled seaweed in a fragrant sesame sauce (Bt200+), retains a satisfying crunch, and harbours the flavour of the sauce very well. The gyuniku tataki, grilled beef with a citron-orange reduction (Bt190++), is served chilled. Its succulence is matched by the sharp, clear flavour of the sauce.

Our party tries two types of tempura: yasai tempura, a standard mixed vegetable tempura (Bt120++), and a much more unusual dish, ebi taroimo koreander no kakiage, a shrimp, taro and coriander tempura that consists of diced shrimp and taro rolled in coriander and batter, and deep-fried into larger irregular-shaped chunks (Bt120++). At the table, we simply break off pieces to eat.

Yakimono, if you’re still wondering, is the term used for grilled dishes. The servings are small, and are usually served towards the end of a meal. Here we tried tori teriyaki, a deceptively simple but delicious dish of grilled chicken with teriyaki sauce (a mixture of soy sauce, sake and mirin) (Bt200++), and one of the highlights of our meal, kamo teriyaki negi hasami yaki, tender grilled duck wrapped around white leeks and served in a teriyaki sauce (Bt200++).

There are plenty of other paths your meal here could take: we don’t try any of the nabe mono – the one-pot dishes, typically made in earthenware pots called donabe which are glazed on the inside only, nor the udon (noodles). Takumi also offers special dishes based on foods that are in season: steamed sea bream rolled in buckwheat noodles (Bt150) and grilled cod with sweet sauce (Bt110) are just two of the dishes we have no more room for.

But we do leave just enough room for dessert. Our waiter warns me about my choice of Green Tea Mochi (Bt70++): “It’s not really something that westerners like…”, while she recommends the much less Japanese sounding Milk and Mascarpone Cheese Pudding (Bt60) to my partner, who happily nods his head. Others opt for good old-fashioned ice cream.

Mochi is a steamed vegetable cake, and this one comes with a generous dusting of fine soy bean and green tea powder (quite like tira simu, you have to watch your breathing as you eat it). The green tea flavour is strong, and the consistency is very thick and perfectly smooth. It was unusual; another acquired taste, shall we say.

Then I tasted the cheese pudding. If you get to Takumi, you must try this astounding, delicious dish. It was like fresh, no, very fresh milk turned into a delicate, creamy custard…

You don’t have to go far to find a competent Japanese restaurant in Bangkok these days, but you do need to make a little bit of a trip to find a Japanese restaurant as outstanding – in quality, foremost, but also in very reasonable prices – as Takumi. Do make the effort.

Open Midday-2.30pm, 6pm-10.30pm daily
Merchant Court Hotel
Le Concorde
202 Ratchadapisek Rd, 10320 Bangkok
Ph. 694 2222

/ Food