There is a restaurant opening a whole new world of culinary using a very innovative approach in Tokyo’s Iidabashi. The restaurant is called INUA, and opened in the summer of 2018. After a taste from their dish full of nature’s nourishments, one may feel as if they are walking through a forest, and even blend in with the scenery of the nature. The oceans, mountains and countryside of Japan appears from their dishes. We visited the space where the timeless dishes full of poetic resonance between human and earth are born.
Once entering through the handsome entrance doors, a dining room with soft and cosy nordic atmosphere appears. The restaurant was designed by OEO Studios based in Copenhagen. Several of the furnishings, including the tables and chairs were crafted by the studio specifically for INUA. Naoto Fukasawa’s Hiroshima series chair from the long-established Maruni Wood Industry, naturally blends in with the restaurant’s atmosphere.
Photography Jason Loucas
“The Plum leather with fresh aromatic flowers” clearly represents the fascination of INUA. The edible flowers and herbs are arranged on the sheet made of plum juice, and afterwards placed over the beeswax.
Photography Jason Loucas
The former Noma German chef was fascinated by Japan
INUA opened its door in June of 2018, and after 8 months, the restaurant took home the Big Plate Award for Arrival of the Year at the newly established World Restaurant Awards 2019 in France. The award was a prize for new restaurants bringing a new concept, leading the evolution of restaurant industry, and opened their restaurant between October 1st 2017 to September 30th 2018. INUA was also awarded two Michelin stars at the newly announced Michelin Guide 2020.
INUA’s head chef is Thomas Frebel, the former chef and head of R&D at Copenhagen’s world-praised restaurant, Noma. He was in charge for developing the menu for Noma, when the restaurant was awarded as the world’s best restaurant. After his experience with the Japanese culinary culture at the Noma pop-up restaurant in 2015, Frebel was drawn to Japan and wished to know more about the Japanese ingredients.
German-born head chef, Thomas Frebel grew up surrounded with traditional local cuisines.
The relaxing and cosy atmosphere flows through the lounge area with a bar counter and sofa, besides the dining area.
A place where Japanese Ingredients and Nordic atmosphere resonates
A cosy and relaxing ambience with Scandinavian style flows though the wide dining area of INUA. At the lounge area, guests can relax on the sofa and enjoy aperitifs, teas and desserts while waiting for their friends to arrive. The restaurant also plans to serve A La Carte dishes at their bar counter. From the dining area, the guests can watch the chefs cooking in the open kitchen with warm atmosphere. The chefs and staffs have gathered from all around the world, and even their guests as well. It seems that global is normal at INUA.
Many chefs are cooking at the open kitchen. Guests can enjoy watching the friendly atmosphere of the kitchen from their dining area.
Discovering new ingredients through traveling and visiting the producing areas around Japan
In preparation to opening the restaurant in Japan, the INUA team have spent a lot of time traveling around Japan to research about the ingredients, to meet the producers and to feel the natural features of the region. Their journey included a visit to the Ainu people’s tribe in Hokkaido, to learn about their culinary skills for smoking salmon and their culture of making traditional clothes using beech trees. Frebel mentioned that he found similarities between the Ainu and Inuit. Their restaurant name INUA originates to the Inuit mythology, and refers to the life force and spirit that runs through nature.
While traveling around Japan, Frebel learned about the ancient Japanese culinary such as smoking, fermentation and ageing. His restaurant values the practice of visiting the past, and utilising it to the present cuisine. INUA has staff members in their team, who are responsible for researching and supplying new ingredients through traveling around the country. Their activity include using seaweeds as shabu shabu, researching the insect culinary culture, tasting the uwazumi sakura at Nagano prefecture’s forestry, and finding loquats with floral aromas from Wakayama prefecture.
The charcoal-grilled red snapper with habanero miso. A string is winded on to the red snapper to be able to eat with your hands. The flower tart uses a puree made of black truffles.
Photography Jason Loucas
A dish with simplicity that have gone through complexity
If one were to describe the culinary of INUA, it will be “Complex Simplicity”, a culinary that have achieved simplicity by going through complexity. A vast amount of time and countless procedures are taken, such as seeking new ingredients all around Japan, finding its new possibilities, and creating original seasonings using the ingredients. Few examples of their original seasonings are rice koji oil, cherry blossom tree oil, miso water, pine tree dashi, salt made from roasted seaweed and shochu koji. The preparation for these seasonings require several months and techniques in ageing, smoking and drying.
Their test kitchen is one floor beneath the restaurant. This is where their new seasonings and culinary are born after countless testing. One of their work is the camembert-like tofu, which is a tofu inoculated with cheese culture and aged for 2 weeks. Another work is the black pineapple, which was caramelised for 14 weeks together with the skin and leaves just like making the black garlic. Everything is tested at this floor, since no one knows if the test will lead to savoury taste or aroma.
The newly tested seasonings are noted on the test kitchen’s window glass. Their original spices and seasonings are stored at the test kitchen.
Countless number of pieces gather to create this restaurant
The more colourful the original seasonings is, the better, Frebel mentions. He often uses Lego to explain. When Legos are stacked, it becomes a house. After making number of these houses, a street will appear, and later becomes a town. Each seasonings is similar to a piece of Lego. When these ingredients and seasonings get together, they become a culinary dish, and when these dishes get together, they become a dinner course. The original seasonings are created to expand the variety of these Lego pieces. Experimenting, recording and analysing take place in the test kitchen, and the place is similar to the wunderkammer from the Renaissance and Baroque times. Rather than a cold laboratory-like atmosphere, the dried octopus, wild ruck bones, seaweed specimens are displayed like a museum with a warm atmosphere that excites one’s curiosity.
The test kitchen to discover new possibilities of the ingredients. Barley koji is in a process of fermentation on the top right image. After the fermentation, the koji will be cut like a cake and charcoal grilled, and topped with raw Japanese glass shrimps like sushi. The below image are varieties of ingredients pickled.
Culinary starts from experiencing the natural features of the land where the ingredient is born
Even after all of this work, Frebel mentions that the creativity of INUA comes from 99% of failure. “The culinary dish starts from what I would like to eat or excites me to create”, he says. To make this happen, the journey to search ingredients begins. He imagines the best way to enjoy the ingredients, by placing himself at the mountain, ocean or countryside where the ingredient was born. These experiences allows his imagination to develop.
INUA is open mainly for dinners and serves only course menu. Around ten culinary dishes flow through their courses, and creativity can also be seen from how they are served. Each dish has a change from the previous dish, and even the way to eat changes. Few examples are using knives, forks, chopsticks and hands or blending by the guest themselves and breaking the frozen ingredients before eating. The strong wish to have their guests to enjoy and become happy can be deeply felt at INUA. In part 2, we will ask Frebel about his current thoughts, childhood environment and his future plans.
Many of the customers express the bee larvae claypot rice dish as their most impressive dish at INUA.
Photography Jason Loucas
Born in 1983 at Magdeburg, Germany. Since joining Noma in 2009, Frebel was head of R&D and was entrusted by Rene Redzepi. He cooked for the Noma pop-up restaurant at Tokyo, Sydney and Mexico. In June 2018, he became the head chef for INUA. In February 2019, the restaurant took home the Big Plate Award for Arrival of the Year at the World Restaurant Awards 2019. From October 2019, Frebel supervises the culinary dishes for the TBS Sunday Theatre “Grand Maison Tokyo”(Nationally broadcasted on television and online every Sunday from 9PM)
Kadokawa Fujimi Building 9F
2-13-12, Fujimi, Chiyoda-ku Tokyo
Every Tuesday to Saturday 18:00~ (Dinner only)
*Sunday lunches are held few times a month
*Private Dining Room for Maximum of 12 people
*Private parties and events can be arranged upon request
For reservations and contact
*Phone available from 11:00-16:00 on Tuesday to Saturday
Photography by Yuji Hori