Refined Chinese-Japanese crossovers from a chef with a penchant for tea


On the Pass

Tomoya Kawada

What, where, who and why: Chef Tomoya Kawada cooks Chinese cuisine infused with a Japanese sensibility, rooted in the two countries’ shared culture of tea drinking. His elegant restaurant, located inside a former diplomat’s residence in Tokyo’s upmarket Minami-Azabu district, has just 12 seats, plus two private rooms.

What’s in a name? ‘Sa’ refers to tea and is found in the word for tea ceremony, ‘sado’. The origins of tea ceremony are in deep meditation, or ‘zen’. Together they make the portmanteau ‘sazen’ and this phrase teaches that while the process may be different, what is imagined by tea and zen is one and the same.

Where two cuisines collide: Kawada worked at a Chinese restaurant in Tokyo for 10 years before moving to Nihonryori RyuGin, where he learned the techniques and spirit of Japanese kaiseki from iconic chef Seiji Yamamoto. Three years later, he moved to Taiwan to help launch RyuGin’s Taipei branch, Shoun RyuGin. After returning to Japan, he opened Sazenka in February 2017.

What’s on the menu? Traditional Chinese cuisine starring favourites such as barbecued pork and Qingtang noodle soup, and more adventurous dishes including jellyfish and sudachi (a green citrus fruit native to Japan) and simmered and dried abalone. The food is paired with an eclectic selection of drinks, either alcoholic (including wine, sake and Shaoxing wine) or tea (from both China and Japan).

A modern classic: One of Kawada’s signature dishes is Young Pigeon Cooked Two Ways, using Chinese techniques for the legs but with breast meat grilled over Japanese charcoal.